F.U.D. – Fun, Underhanded and Dirty

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt, or F.U.D., is a term I seem to have really come to use a lot lately.  It’s a marketing approach that seems to transcend industries. You see it in politics as one candidate tries to undermine his/her opponents (in politics it’s usually called mud-slinging), in the battles between the cable/Internet/phone providers (here in Omaha it’s between Cox Communications and Qwest Communications), in advertisements for cleaning products (what percentage of germs does Clorox kill compared to Lysol) and of course within our own beloved IT industry.

Recent examples of IT FUD (at least in the infrastructure realm) have included, but definitely not limited to:

  • Microsoft/Citrix v. VMware –hypervisor and virtual desktop/application infrastructure
  • Vizioncore v. Veaam – The especially heated virtualization backup and management realm
  • HP v. Dell v. IBM v. Cisco – “<insert company name> is the best, purpose-built platform for virtualization”
  • HP v. EMC v. NetApp – the ongoing storage wars

All of the above mentioned companies deserve their place towards the top of the heap in their respective piles, which of course leads to very heated debate.  This debate unfortunately tends to boil over into FUD territory.

Having spent time as both a customer and a partner (though not a vendor), I definitely appreciate one company telling me the pros and cons of both their product and their competitor’s product.  In fact, I would doubt the aptitude of a vendor who didn’t have a competitive fact sheet for each of their products.  Where FUD comes into play is when the comparisons are overly tilted, based on half-truths or flat out lies and presented to a customer as an unerring truth.

Let’s take the recent trend of the Tolly reports and similar vendor-sponsored “independent” studies. I use quotes around the word independent due to the fact that the third party is receiving money from only one of the competitors.  That breeds an inherent perception of a conflict of interest, which in my opinion instantly taints the report whether or not one truly does exist.

It is also well known that when a vendor performs or commissions someone else to perform a head-to-head comparison, that the tests that will be run will favor the features of that vendor’s product.  As a nonspecific example, let’s look at a storage bake-off.  Vendor A sets up a performance test between its array and Vendor B’s array.  The load that is put against both arrays could favor the caching algorithm that Vendor A’s array uses, thereby ensuring which array will perform the best.

Another aspect of FUD is the constant hammering of a competitor’s flaws, while totally ignoring any advantages their competitor may have.  You see this in the ever popular side-by-side feature comparison tables. Two of my favorites are the VMware View v. Citrix XenDesktop feature set battles.

View FUD

Wow, View sure is more feature rich, isn’t it?

Citrix FUD

Hold on there, apparently Citrix offers me more unique features.

See what I mean?
Clearly each vendor is focusing solely on the negatives of their competition, and in some cases not highlighting their best features.  Also notice that VMware favors the least impactive of the competitors.

Next is the outright lie or deception.  This clearly falls into the Dirty category.  This will always occur, but in any healthy community it should quickly be knocked out of the sky.  So much of the IT industry is based on facts and numbers, so this doesn’t happen much, but it is definitely resident within politics (ever heard of a dirty politician?) where the facts and issues fall more into shades of gray.  These shades of gray make it harder to use facts to counter claims, especially when people’s emotions are thoroughly invested.

Finally, I’d like to highlight some fun that can be had with FUD.  As an example, I’d like to point out Doug Hazelman’s post here: http://veeammeup.com/2010/05/fud-for-thought.html.  Sure he’s being blatantly competitive and even admits to FUD flinging, but he also isn’t pretending that he’s giving an unbiased opinion.  FUD can also lead to great debates like we saw between
VMware’s Scott Drummonds and Citrix’s Simon Crosby
.  There is also a trend on Twitter and on some blogs of individuals who can transcend the Kool-Aid and have fun with their respective employer’s marketing companies along with their competitors’.  The Twitter jabbing between Chad Sakacc and Vaughn Stewart is a perfect and perpetual example of this.  Both give credit where it is due and use sound technical arguments when disagreements appear.  Outcomes like these can turn FUD into something that actually benefits the community as a whole, but take a special set of individuals and circumstances.

So what can we do to wade through the mire that FUD creates in our decision making process?  To me it’s always been a matter of using the purely marketing information as a guidepost; a way to decide where my time would be best spent researching a set of competing products.  If Vendor A says their product is better because they don’t rely solely on SATA disks like Vendor B does, then I know I need to spend some time with the facts, trusted blog sites, a spreadsheet and possibly a lab to determine if there is some merit to using a large array of SATA disks verses a smaller array of SAS disks.  Companies do things because they think it’s a better way to do them, it’s up to us to determine if it really is a better mousetrap.

I like the way Wikipedia states it: “To dispel FUD, the easiest way is to ask for details and then provide well researched, hard facts which disproves the details.”  That clearly was written to help dispel a competitor’s FUD, but how does a consumer dispel the FUD coming from both directions?  I suggest not depending on marketing materials and asking for details from both (or all) parties, and then provide your own research and hard facts to make a fair comparison.

Anyone trying to sell you something is guilty of some of these things, though some may be more trustworthy than others.  Just remember, you must use your best judgment to make an informed decision that you can live with and defend, just like you should be doing in politics.