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Cloud Managers: When Free Isn’t

Posted by John Menkart

9/9/13 12:41 PM

Recently a number of large IT vendors have begun bundling their cloud management software with their existing product suites. This results in the appearance that the vendors’ cloud management technology is free, or near free, and thus appears to have a significant price advantage over other technologies such as CloudBolt C2 that offers real value to customers.

vendor solution suite cash cow
Is that "free" product really just a loss leader for the cash cow solution suite?

VMware, CA, IBM, HP and others have jumped onto this bandwagon to incent customers (any customers) to adopt their proprietary Cloud Management Platform. My question is: why would a company give customers something for free that is valuable and takes resources to develop, maintain, and support?  The answer is that they wouldn’t.

We all know the adage of “there is no free lunch”. So what is the reason the apparent price of these supposed solutions is so low, or even as a free line item on your quote?

1)   You get what you pay for. If a product has little actual value, and as a result companies are unlikely to pony up cash post-evaluation, then giving the product license for free makes the overall expenditure look like a better deal. It also distracts the customer from looking too closely at the product, and from realizing that license cost is the tip of the cost iceberg. The time to implementation and functional use of the products combined with the resources consumed during the implementation process will likely dwarf the initial acquisition cost.

2)   Vendor Lock In. Cloud computing by its nature is intended to provide customers significant choice. It can free customers from an unhappy marriage with their vendors and enable adoption of best of breed technologies across the board. Despite this, many large vendors are using their free or low-cost cloud managers to lock-in customers to their larger solution suite. In short, the Will VMware work as hard to support alternative to vCenter hypervisors in vCAC? Will BMC ever make supporting Puppet, Chef or HP SA as easy and feature rich as the support for BMC BladeLogic? Any reasonably savvy customer intuitively knows the answer to these questions. The fact is: free products are loss leaders. They’re meant to drive revenue from other products and make it difficult if not impossible to switch to alternatives once deployed. As a result, they all have a significant bias toward the rest of the vendor’s solution suite.

The next time your vendor rep tells you that their solution is just as good as CloudBolt C2 and free (or nearly), think about why they are so anxious to avoid having their product scrutinized in comparison to C2. Look closely, and understand their motivation, or you could be accepting a free tool only to be forced to feed the cash cow that is all of the other vendor’s products.

Topics: John, Vendors, Puppet