The Consumerization of IT Evals

There is a huge amount of emotion currently surging around software evaluation subscription programs for IT like TechNet and VMTN. IT pros are self-organizing to send a message to Microsoft to not cancel the $349 TechNet Subscription and to VMware to bring back VMTN Subscription, cancelled in 2007 but still reported to have a “very high” chance of returning. The enterprise market is dominated by multi-million dollar Enterprise Licensing Agreements and Software Assurance programs; so why do people care so much about these individual non-production offerings?

An IT professional and home lab, 2013

We’re now experiencing The Consumerization of IT Evals. Consumerization is often discussed these days, but we’re usually talking about BYOD, SaaS, shadow IT, and software that looks nice and is actually easy to use. Even if IT is resisting consumerization for their internal customers, it’s a hard attitude to shake when it comes to meeting your own needs.

Traditionally, IT projects have been expensive, long, and complicated, and that included the evaluation stage. Evaluations included things like RFPs, hardware procurement, purpose-built labs at work, PoCs with consulting contracts from the vendor, and formal projects with a definitive decision at the end. On-boarding and training came with classrooms, instructors, and big price tags.

Now, IT pros want anytime, anywhere access to their enterprise software evals, just like they get with their consumer services. This is both a pre-sales and a post-sales need. They need access when studying for certifications to go along with their $49 a month video training subscription. They need access when updating an ops runbook for work, when they are considering upgrading to the next version, when they are preparing notes for a brownbag with their peers or even when they just are getting ready with an answer for when their boss asks, “What’s next?” Consumerization in this case means not only an expectation of quality and ease-of-use, but an agile approach as they jump in on a spare Friday afternoon or a casual evening on the couch.

Industry vendors ignore this at their own risk. The same trends in consumerization, open source and cloud make product evaluations ever easier to provide. SaaS vendors can offer easy-to-consume trials. Even hardware vendors can offer software simulators. But for installable software, sixty- or even 180-day evaluation licenses no longer fit with these expectations of informal evaluations. While online labs like the VMware Hands on Labs Online and similar offerings from Microsoft can pick up some of the slack, they can’t take the place of all evaluations in the archeological context of a local environment.

Most vendors don’t have the breadth of a Microsoft or a VMware, and a full product evaluation subscription like TechNet or VMTN won’t make sense for everybody. But IT pros now have expectations of easy and cheap access to virtually everything, and even not having a formal lab at work is no barrier; home labs can be sourced for pennies on the dollar from eBay or just run in a virtual machine on a laptop.  Are IT vendors looking at the realities of today and how their customers want to learn about their offerings? 

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