Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Importance of free training appliances/software

I try to get any opportunity I can to keep my technical skills up-to-date, from reading articles down to getting virtual versions of the software/appliance and play with it. While major vendors provide technical documentation and various papers for free, there are still some who hide their documentation behind authentication wall.

But that's not the prime concern, as engineers prefer something tangible, something to play with..
And here comes the idea of virtual labs that some vendors provide for money or rental labs from various training and certification companies. But all that still costs, and this is not very viable for home-use to learn the technology or get acquainted with the management interface.

With the recent advancements of virtualized environments came network and security virtual appliances, which could be re-purposed for training or testing. There are some vendors who offer 30 day validation, but honestly.. in real world people have to deal with many tasks and there is no continuous 30 days time, when one can focus on evaluating the product and perform all the tests and analysis. Also such evaluations are not always well planned with all the test cases identified before performing evaluation, so some cases might be missed and PoC has to be re-built to do them later.

So when actually engineers need or want testing/training VMs:

  • when selecting new network/security elements for purchase (e.g. shortlisting for evaluation)
  • when evaluating compatibility of various elements/vendor systems
  • when preparing for new job position
  • when testing new management/automation systems/monitoring software
  • when developing code for the above 
  • when preparing for certifications
  • for collection purposes

All of these reasons would benefit a vendor (if he provides free evaluation VMs) in the following way:

  • customer's engineers already know the product(s), so no barrier to sell different products(or from different vendor)
  • compatibility would be evaluated without shipping try+buy equipment and problems would be identified (and resolved) quite early, especially if some bounty program would exist
  • with more engineers available to the customer on the market, they might grow/expand faster (=> more equipment can be purchased and deployed)
  • same applies to NMS/SIEM/automation software configuration
  • developing code in free time is also not very easy if one needs Cisco Nexus 9000 to actually test it.
  • although certifications are also source of income, but by lowering the cost of LAB preparation, it might motivate more people to do it.
  • some people collect stamps, while others might collect VMs.. but really it's more about being prepared for one of the reasons above..

There are more benefits to mention, but this surely is sufficient for any product manager or marketing director to stop for a while and think about it.
Some of the vendors already did it, and they chose this strategy in order to win hearts and minds of engineers, who otherwise would not have the opportunity to find out how good these products are.


Dear Vendor,
whether you want to introduce new product or gain larger market share, providing free VMs of your products (with limited performance of course) might bring you more advantages than risks.
Even when you are having problems recruiting good pre-sales or professional services engineers, the availability of free VMs for preparation or training on your products would expand your hiring selection choice in the long run.
What is also important to mention, engineers who would know your products (and like them) could indirectly be supporters or enablers of potential sales opportunities wherever they would work.
So please consider this when adjusting your product portfolios and creating your marketing strategies.
Respectfully yours,
                         Security Engineer