Understand What You're Paying For: How to Evaluate Software
June 20, 2016

Dirk Paessler
Paessler AG

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The technology landscape is littered with confusing terminology. Some of this comes from vendors chasing popular buzzwords, other times it's the fault of a 30,000-foot view approach to different categories.

The term "monitoring," for example, can mean any number of things, and while more specified terms like application performance monitoring, network performance monitoring, or infrastructure monitoring are supposed to narrow it down, there is often overlap and confusion into what is supposed to go where. This is common across many IT categories, especially once we involve major buzzwords like cloud or software-defined.

Compounding the confusion is the changing nature of software sales, maintenance and operation, with the addition of new delivery models, licensing models and service-level agreements. An IT administrator may have simple goals in mind, but they will have to navigate an increasingly complex world to accomplish them. With that in mind, here are several key areas to focus on when evaluating your next IT purchase.

Licensing

Purchasing software may seem like a simple task, but there are often unexpected hurdles, the first of which is licensing and payment models. The growth of the "as a service" model has displaced many traditional "pay upfront" models, but it's important to understand whether the software purchased is all-inclusive.

Many products on the market are made up of various components, for which numerous modules and add-ons are available. It is difficult to determine just what will actually be necessary in terms of additional software before you buy, and what's worse, there is often little clarity offered on behalf of the seller. Before you buy, be sure to understand exactly what is needed in a product feature set, and match that up with associated costs to do a true price evaluation.

Evaluation and Testing

In a perfect world, every software can be evaluated and tested with a full-featured trial version. That may not always be the case, and that needs to be considered when making any purchase. IT administrators need easy access to trials, technical papers, data sheets and other information, along with dedicated assistance from the vendor should they run into any problems during evaluation. That's a must, and if vendors don't offer it, that should stand out as a red flag.

During the evaluation phase, it's also important to take note of the implementation process. If there are numerous problems with installing and configuring a trial version of the software, it can almost be guaranteed that the full version will be even more difficult.

Implementation and Usability

Ideally, the evaluation phase is a good indicator of how successful implementation will be. Still, it's key to fully comprehend all the challenges that can come from a complete implementation, many of which can undermine the functionality of the product. In the network monitoring world, this is often where the delivery model of the software comes in, with SaaS models often having different outcomes than appliance models in terms of installation and configuration. Implementations that aren't lightweight and automatic create more opportunities for something to go wrong, and problems may not be immediately apparent.

Usability itself is difficult to vet, as one can't understand the full value of any software until they use it. Here, it's important to trust peer networks and dive into case studies and customer references. The media can play a valuable role here as well, including news outlets that still publish reviews.

Ultimately, software that goes unused is a massive loss in terms of both money and potential technical gains. Keeping these issues in mind can ensure a smooth and simple software acquisition process, one that will enable IT to be successful with the right tools at their side.

Dirk Paessler is CEO and Founder of Paessler AG.

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