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What makes a Cool Vendor so cool?

Should you care if Gartner says a vendor is cool?

Gartner is well-known for its Magic Quadrants that detail the leaders and players in a given market. However, in recent years the firm has also started a new series called "Cool Vendors." According to Gartner, "Cool Vendors in 2013 are exploiting the Nexus of Forces of cloud computing, social, mobile, and information to challenge long-held assumptions and significant investments in traditional IT. These cool vendors are transforming the way businesses operate and consumers engage with technology."

Below is a video from Gartner VP, Michele Cantara, discussing what a Cool Vendor is and why you should pay attention to them.

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Some of you reading this may have been part of the cool crowd in school when you were younger. Others may have envied or even resented the kids who were deemed cool kids. What makes one person or company cool and not another? Is being cool really all that important?

I had a chance to read the "Cool Vendors in Security: Security Services, 2013" report. Since I was very familiar with most of the companies mentioned, I wanted to see what makes a Cool Vendor so cool and what if anything it does for their business.

In the Security Services Cool Vendor report there were 4 new vendors highlighted:

1. Alert Logic - The company has built a scale-out, multitenant, cloud-based architecture to deliver security services from the cloud. For some services, an on-premises physical or virtual appliance is used as part of its architecture to aggregate and consolidate monitored data. Services include intrusion detection, log monitoring management services (such as monitoring, archival, search and analysis), security operations center monitoring, vulnerability assessment, and Web application protection services visible from a Web-based console.

2. Bluebox - Bluebox offers security-as-a-service protection for mobile applications and data. Its cloud-based technology intercepts every data exchange between mobile applications and an enterprise. It analyzes the exchange and allows, prohibits or protects it via encryption. These actions remain invisible to users and do not impact the user experience.

3. Skyhigh Networks - Skyhigh is an early innovator in the emerging category of cloud access security brokers — that is, it injects security policies and controls between cloud service consumers and the cloud services they are consuming. Skyhigh's services reside in its cloud-based data centers as a reverse proxy; they include auditing, logging, keyword-based data loss prevention, object-based file encryption, and integration with Active Directory and identity-as-a-service providers.

4. Digital Shadows - Digital Shadows expands the approach of enterprise IT security to the broader Internet by helping to tackle corporate information exposure in the public arena. Digital Shadows offers digital footprint services to mitigate targeted advanced threats, data leakage and negative reputation issues, monitoring all activity across the Internet including social media, forums and message boards.

Also, in a "where are they now" segment, the report referenced Zscaler as a past Cool Vendor. Since I knew the folks at Alert Logic, Skyhigh and Bluebox, as well as Zscaler, I set out to speak with them about their newfound cool status.

I received an added bonus in that speaking with Zscaler I had a chance to catch up with Lane Bess, who is the COO of Zscaler, but also is former CEO at Palo Alto Networks, another former Cool Vendor.

A couple of interesting things were consistent across my interviews with these companies. While all of them had interesting technology, they each believed that they were not chosen as cool vendors just because of their technology. They believed their company was selected because of the success and culture of their company. 

Urvish Vashi, VP of Marketing at Alert Logic, said he thought Cool Vendors break down into two groups. One group "had new solutions to solving old problems, making a better mousetrap." The other group of Cool Vendors "had new solutions to new problems." So, for instance, having to secure a public cloud deployment in AWS was a new problem that demanded a new solution.

Lane Bess of Zscaler said that he thinks the customer growth of these vendors is what attracts Gartner to label them as cool. Bess said that high growth, especially in customer segments that Gartner has visibility into (enterprise), is a key metric he thinks Gartner looks at. If you have a fairly new solution that is getting that kind of traction, you are almost by definition cool. 

I think that is somewhat of a chicken and the egg question. Does being labeled a cool vendor indeed make you one of the "cool kids" that attracts more customers, or does attracting customers at a rapid rate make you cool, whether Gartner recognizes it or not? Probably a bit of both.

One thing for sure is that Gartner is usually right on in predicting success for Cool Vendors. Lane says at both Zscaler and Palo Alto, business was brisk after achieving the Gartner Cool Vendor status.

Skyhigh Networks is another of the Cool Vendors in this report. I had a chance to speak with Rajiv Gupta, CEO and founder of Skyhigh Networks. I have met Rajiv before and like many of the leadership of the cool vendors, Rajiv has had considerable success in past ventures. In Rajiv's mind, cool or not you still just keep working hard. It is nice to achieve the recognition, but working to achieve that recognition is not and should not be the goal.  You build a great company with great products solving real customer's problems. The accolades will follow.

If past success of Cool Vendors like Zscaler and Palo Alto is any indication, these new Cool Vendors should be in line for continued success in the years to come. Whether that makes them cool enough for you to do business with them is a question for you.

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