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March 3, 2017updated 20 Mar 2017 4:49pm

Can we really trust the Gartner Magic Quadrant?

Can we really trust Gartner when their primary goal is to sell research, consultancy and events? There is more than meets the eye when it comes to the Gartner Magic Quadrant, argues EXASOL CEO Aaron Auld.

By James Nunns

Run a quick search for Magic Quadrant and you’ll find a huge number of press releases from vendors telling the world about their latest position. Leader, challenger, visionary or niche; whatever the placing it’s worth a press release. At EXASOL we have been guilty of the same charge – after all recognition from a third party as well-regarded as Gartner is worth shouting about. But can we trust Gartner? It has an aggressive business model, it’s been seen to contradict itself and every year it appears to change the criteria on a whim. These changes are consigned to the small print but it creates winners and losers and this has real business impact.

Aaron Auld, CEO EXASOL.


What is the Magic Quadrant?

The term “Magic Quadrant” was first used in public by Gartner in 1994 but its history goes back to the 1980s when it was meant as a quick overview to a market segment. EXASOL was originally listed in the Magic Quadrant for Data Warehouse Database Management Systems, now known as Data Management Solutions for Analytics, but there are now over 150 distinct research reports covering a wide variety of technologies. The reports take the form of a two-dimensional matrix with “completeness of vision” along the horizontal axis and “ability to execute” along the vertical axis.

Entries are assessed after an extensive data-gathering process, in which vendors are obliged to respond to an in-depth technical RFI document, and over 20 customers of the vendor fill out a lengthy online survey. All this research is used to inform the opinion of analysts, who then place vendors on the chart depending on their consideration of its completeness of the solution and ability to execute. The chart is segmented into four quadrants which divide the companies listed into four broad categories, identifying them as niche, challenger, visionary, or leader.

Gartner advises users to take notice of all quadrants, since businesses in every category have their own unique strengths and weaknesses. The firm says that Magic Quadrant reports are designed to help narrow down a vendor search, not tell a customer which vendor they should choose but by this argument, if a vendor is not on the Magic Quadrant graphic, it will not form part of the decision process.


Magic Quadrant controversy

It is true to say the Magic Quadrant has had its fair share of controversy. In May 2009 ZL Technologies challenged the “legitimacy” of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant rating system and alleged unfair competition amongst other complaints. The case was dismissed. More recently in 2014, Netscout had similar reasons behind their suit against Gartner, a case that is yet to be decided.

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However, suing Gartner is probably not the answer in most cases; their research is a matter of opinion and is clearly stated as such, but this does not stop us scrutinising the whims of Gartner. Can we really trust an organisation whose business interests lie in nurturing enterprise clients? After all, enterprise clients pay them the most in research, event and consultancy fees. Is that not a broken business model? If so, what is the answer?


Giving preference to enterprise stifles growth

The real issue is that a listing on the Magic Quadrant is often a prerequisite to being invited to the table to pitch or run a proof of concept for a prospect. After all, with so much choice in the market it’s difficult to see the wood for the trees – so taking an analyst research report such as the Magic Quadrant seems a logical step when wanting to whittle down a selection list. The problem is that the same vendors dominate a majority of these reports – multinationals such as Microsoft, Oracle, Google, IBM and so on. This is stifling growth as a whole; it creates a situation where you need to be big to get the business.

gartner magic quadrant

However, prior to 2017 there was still hope; Gartner would allow vendors on the Magic Quadrant graphic based on merit. But Gartner has moved the goalposts; in 2017 they introduced new criteria.  To be listed companies need to show minimum annual revenues of $40 million USD – or for those with revenues of between $10m and $40m YOY growth of 50%. As a result, in the 2017 “Magic Quadrant for Data Management Solutions for Analytics” three vendors were dropped, including EXASOL. EXASOL had been included for five years and one of the other vendors dropped had been included since 2006 (which is as far back as records go). To my knowledge, none of the vendors have any less ability to execute or a reduced completeness of vision compared to 2016.

Even the analysts fall victim to hype

Part of the concern is that Gartner analysts are falling victim to their own hype. In 2015 Gartner published some downbeat research with the headline “Gartner Survey Highlights Challenges to Hadoop Adoption” citing a Hadoop skills gap as a big concern and that 49 percent of respondents to their survey didn’t know how to get value from Hadoop.

And in another piece of Gartner research – the 2016 “Hype Cycle for Information Infrastructure” – Hadoop Distributions have fallen to the bottom of the Trough of Disillusionment. So why are four Hadoop distribution companies included in the 2017 Magic Quadrant if Gartner’s own research says it can’t deliver? Surely these should be dropped until the value has been proved? Feedback from our customers has told us that Hadoop is great for data processing and data storage but it is most certainly not the tool you need for analytics.  SQL on Hadoop simply hasn’t been cracked yet and other Hadoop-based technologies such as Impala are not mature enough yet.


Written by big enterprise for enterprise – you should look further afield

Our opinion is that the Magic Quadrant is written by big enterprise about big enterprise and is sold to big enterprise. With the additional hurdles for vendors to be listed, it is no longer a complete assessment of the market. For true representation, you need to look a little further than a Gartner report.

When conducting your own research, ask yourself, where are the comparison benchmarks? Who are the customers and are they satisfied? How long has the vendor been around? Let’s look a little deeper – try the smaller analyst firms who really know their stuff – analysts from 451 or Bloor Research who are informed, independent and passionate about technology. If we take Gartner’s opinion the world will become a less exciting place and the pace of change is likely to slow.

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