Buying vs Subscription…

Visibility on a subscription basis sounds good – or does it?

Even with the massive salary caps that exist in the NBA and NFL, many professional sports teams get very creative about structuring players’ contracts to spread compensation out over multiple years. In technology, the rise of “as-a-Service” offerings and options to bundle the cost of equipment in with the cost of ongoing support work in much the same way.

Why pay $100K up front if you can spread that out over 3 to 5 years? The ‘opex versus capex’ option seems to make sense on the surface because it frees up more “cap space” to purchase more new technologies in the near term but, for many, the logic behind this financial model implodes under close scrutiny.

That’s especially true when losing access to the technology in question puts users, applications, and networks at greater risk of downtime, poor performance, and security attacks. Case in point: network and cloud visibility.

What is ‘network visibility’?

A network visibility fabric is an important layer of intelligence between your network and the monitoring and analysis tools you use to keep it secure and running optimally. The heart of the fabric is the intelligent network packet broker (NPB) that aggregates all the data captured by network access points – usually costly ports on switches or network and virtual taps — and removes all the duplicates and other unwanted or unnecessary data that bogs down monitoring infrastructures.

The NPB then sends the analysis-ready data onto monitoring, performance, and security tools, load balancing the flow of traffic so that each tool works optimally. Benefits include complete access to data, the addition of valuable metadata, and the offloading of resource-intensive functions like TLS/SSL decryption from more expensive tools.

Now imagine losing control of this layer. . .

In an effort to make their own balance sheets and company valuations look more stable, some visibility providers have begun pressuring companies to adopt a subscription-based approach to paying for their visibility solutions. The obvious “worst-case scenario” for this model is that, when the subscription runs out, access to the visibility layer could suddenly cease, and your IT and security tools and teams could instantly lose the benefits of intelligent filtering, insightful metadata, and cost-saving tool optimization.

Instead of just losing access to vendor support when your equipment warranty ends, now your packet brokers may abruptly cease to function if your subscription expires before your Purchasing team processes the new contract. A sudden change in the data you feed your monitoring tools and can instantly put networks, application performance and security at risk.

That’s the worst-case scenario . . .

And hopefully it would never come to that, but aside from that rather extreme potential downside, the subscription-based visibility model has other drawbacks that benefit only the provider taking a deeper cut out of the enterprise customer’s budget.

Related Content: The reasons to buy and avoid subscriptions

The shadow side of “buy now, pay later”: Higher cost for less flexibility

With the subscription model, companies often end up grossly overpaying for equipment and support, especially if the visibility vendor pushes for a three-year subscription. In this case, you could end up entering into another multi-year deal with costs up to 80% or compared to the initial subscription — only now you’re locked into paying for aging technology that may or may not still be adequate at the end of six years.

Visibility experts at Keysight estimate that by the end of year three, companies are often on the losing side of a total cost of ownership (TCO) calculation. By the time an enterprise owns equipment outright after 5-7 years, they’re effectively left with a “boat anchor” of rapidly diminishing value. This is sort of like what happens in sports when teams get stuck paying out massive contracts to players who suffer injuries early on, or never live up to their initial promise. The money for these contracts counts against the annual salary cap for years as the team reaps diminishing or no returns.

Being locked into subscriptions may also mean making a long-term commitment to a vendor before knowing how responsive and qualified its customer and engineering support will be, what its product roadmap will look like by the end of your contract, and whether the vendor’s own financial outlook is or will become uncertain.

Perpetual support costs less and keeps IT in control

Be wary of the hard sell. There are times and ‘use cases’ where a subscription model makes sense, but in general, the risk of losing access to your network visibility fabric—and the intelligence your tools need for detection, investigation, and analysis—is too high a price to pay to defer the relatively low capital investment that packet brokers represent.

The “perpetual” support model in which companies re-up their support contracts every year or so gives IT greater flexibility to make a change should a one be needed at any time. The company might take an imminent renewal as an opportunity to evaluate competitive solutions from different vendors or negotiate (from a position of power) with the existing vendor to seamlessly transition to newer, more powerful solutions.

Look for a vendor that offers flexible options that accommodate a range of busi­ness models without pushing one over the other. Keysight currently offers free consultations to help calculate TCO for various approaches that accommodate any budget and ensure you never run the risk of having the “lights go out.”