I’m not a big fan of IT analysts, and have noted so previously. I find that far too many of them are all opinion and no experience, tossing supposed expertise around with little to back it up and even less transparency, and in doing so often actually impacting buying and deployment decisions.
Now to be very clear, there are exceptions. Last week in Milan I got to spend some time with RedMonk‘s James Governor who seems to relish breaking the technical analyst stereotype – he’s direct, honest, knowledgeable, and brutally blunt, and he cares less about being popular or quoted and more about finding sanity and clarity amidst cesspools of hype and hyperbole. But, of the analysts I have met (and I have met many over the past two decades), he’s the exception, not the rule.
I bring this up because I was recently pulled into a conversation with a U.S. Government agency that has been using ColdFusion successfully for a long time, and has recently started working with Flex as well. Apparently, as is the case in most large organizations, multiple products and technologies are in use, and there was some discussion internally about the platform on which to build a new application. And so, the organization (I promised not to name names) sought outside expert advice by contacting Gartner who then came back with a recommendation.
Before I go any further, there is something I should state quite emphatically, and that is that I fully appreciate that there are lots of options out there, and sometimes ColdFusion may not be the right tool for the job. If careful research is performed, and a decision is made to use PHP or ASP.NET or Java or anything else, well, I can respect that decision (even though I’d try to encourage the use of ColdFusion when and if I think it is the right choice – hey, I am biased, and I freely admit it). Ok, now back to our regularly scheduled programming …
Gartner came back with a recommendation, a copy of which I have read and reread. And they did not recommend ColdFusion. Nor did they recommend Ruby on Rails or Java or ASP.NET or … So, what did Gartner recommend for brand new development instead of ColdFusion? I hope you are sitting down … Gartner recommended the use of Perl. Yep, Perl, the same Perl that was created in the late 80s, the same Perl that has been a staple of IT departments and system admins for decades, the same Perl that primarily relies on CGI for use with web applications, the same Perl of which the current version 5 was released in 1994 (and yes, I know that version 5.10 came out a year ago and v6 is in the works).
And no, I am not badmouthing or belittling Perl – it is indeed proven and battle tested and powers some impressive applications including Bugzilla and Moveable Type and parts of some impressive sites including Amazon.com and IMDb. Still, it’s a pretty astounding recommendation, and one that is somewhat harder to fathom than, say, recommending PHP or ASP.NET.
Ok, so why was Perl recommended? The first criticism of ColdFusion is one of leveragability, that logic created in ColdFusion can’t be easily shared with other applications. Obviously, considering Web Services interfaces, and gateways to just about anything, this is flat out incorrect. I am not sure what type of integration Gartner is referring to, but I fail to see how logic in Perl is inherently more sharable than logic written in ColdFusion. The next criticism is cost, and Gartner notes that as commercial software, ColdFusion has a higher acquisition cost. Interestingly, Gartner explicitly points out that this is an acquisition cost issue, but then goes on to simply ignore any ongoing cost issues (like training time, development time, etc., even though it previously points out that a benefit of ColdFusion is that it is easy to learn and fast to develop in). In fact, the report goes on to point out that code written in Perl is more complex, and that maintenance by future developers is a potential challenge. There’s more, but you get the gist of it.
Gartner concludes by stating that Perl can run on multiple platforms, and then noting that ColdFusion can also run on multiple platforms, but that Perl can also run across multiple solutions. (I have no idea what that even means!). And finally, the report makes the argument that Perl is open source and thus provides a higher level of investment protection than single vendor solutions, apparently unaware that there are in fact other products (including open source offerings) that support CFML (to varying degrees).
The report does not state whether or not the researchers have ever actually used ColdFusion or Perl (or any other player in the space), apparently that is not a prerequisite to actually making recommendations.
I know I am generalizing somewhat, and am sure that there are analyst reports and expert opinions that are balanced and sound and well reasoned. Unfortunately, I don’t seem to run into them much, which makes the reliance on supposed experts a very worrying notion.
And that end of the day, analyst opinions are just that, opinions. They are not facts, they are not automatically valid, and they are not even necessarily driven by subject matter expertise. They are just opinions, albeit expensive ones. And as for opinions, well, you’ve probably heard the expression “Those who can’t, teach”. The phrase is actually rather absurd, I know many who can and teach (and many who can’t and thankfully don’t!). So, I propose that we update the phrase to “Those who can’t, opine”.

25 thoughts

  1. Sometimes it does make you wonder, why this reports are worth so much. I must get into that game 😉
    AS for James, I too have met him in the based (At an adobe event in london) and agree he doesn’t take any prisoners with his thoughts and it is very refreshing indeed.

  2. More importantly, is there anyone in organization X that can program in Perl? Because if there isn’t then the acquisition cost for this "free" language just jumped tremendously. Hiring experienced Perl programmers is going to cost at least one order of magnitude more than than purchasing ColdFusion. Especially if this organization already has licenses for CF.

  3. I remember my first encounter with Gartner back in 2002. The report they gave us wasn’t just off the mark, it had gross inaccuracies. Our company paid $250,000 for something that right away in which basic accounting errors were found in minutes. We corrected those mistakes and moved forward, while our accountants cursed the day Gartner was founded.
    Flash forward to a trip I took to Chicago. I sat next to a Gartner analyst on the plane, who was an expert in helping government managers deploy applications. We chatted and he was happily ignorant of Section 508. I was shocked when he told me that COTS products don’t need to be Section 508 compliant, and that government managers can get ‘waivers’ for said solutions. He was completely unaware of successful Section 508 suits against NASA, IRS, and Target, and didn’t realize that the ‘waiver’ gave protection to the COTS vendor and not to the government manager. In other words, the advice they gave was putting their customers at risk of their jobs and careers!
    Gartner is garbage. Some day people at large will figure it out. In the meantime the folks at Gartner will continue to recommend stuff like Perl for web development. Good luck finding Perl developers who want to do web development – since most like to do other things these days. In the meantime, if you want a real laugh, look up the Gartner report on Open Source.

  4. While Perl is very cool, it is certainly not what I would have expected from Gartner. An interesting side note to this, Gartner once proposed something called "SOA 2.0". James Governor, Mark Little, Myself and several other (basically the top 650 "who’s who" of the SOA movement) all signed this to smack down the idea as a daft attempt to create another magic quadrant for which people could be charged for. See _ http://www.mwdadvisors.com/resources/stop-the-madness.php
    I have to say, after reviewing their reasons, someone at Gartner must have had a really bad day. Gartner are generally on the right side of things. James is of course, my favorite analyst in the world and I believe (and am biased) that he is one of the few analysts who actually "gets it".
    Go James go!!! I may even get a Redmonk Tattoo!!

  5. "Perl can also run across multiple solutions. (I have no idea what that even means!)."
    They mean that perl code can be executed outside of and apart from a web server, making it theoretically possible to do things from the command line that would otherwise have to be done through a web browser. So for example, in Coldfusion there might be a web page that I hit to produce a report that is output as an XML file and stored on the server. In Perl, I might be able produce that report from the command line.
    I know there are ways around this using coldfusion (for example, you could run coldfusion on the standalone web server and use wget to generate the report), and I know that Perl would have to be installed to make the above scenario work (although let’s face it, Perl is ubiquitous), and more importantly I know that the application would have to be designed to allow this and most probably arent. I’m not defending Gartner, but I think this is what they meant.
    It would be great if cfscript could be made to be a superset of java. Then if you really wanted to do what Gartner is suggesting, you could.

  6. @Christopher,
    You’re probably right on the interpretation there, but with an eye on technologies somewhat newer than Perl’s 1994, one might have expected them to suggest AIR as a suitable way to easily leverage the organization’s existing CF expert

  7. Disappointing but unfortunately happens all the time.
    The next problem is with the manager that got them (Gartner) involved in the first place. He now has to justify the no doubt huge cost of commissioning the report and of course will do that by following the recommendations.
    With a bit of luck he gets promoted (padded his management reports with stuff from the Garnter document which sounds so good) and makes it the next guys problem.
    In the meantime the programmers carry on as before (they are used to this nonsense by now) and keep the systems running using CF.

  8. @Ben, I hope you’ll keep us posted on the results of this (unnamed) organization getting Gartner involved and whether they do indeed change to using Perl (shudder!).
    I can definitely understand research groups recommended *something* other than CFM

  9. Ben,
    Sometimes Gartner and other companies are used to cover political decisions and not logic ones. You said that it is a current CFMX shop, so the cost of hardware is small faction of the maintenance cost of software developers. Also, the use of Flex 3 and/or AIR makes CFMX a better choice (middleware) than typical HTML for its speed and user friendliness. It seems to me that CFMX is a better choice for integration into product like Business Objects (Crystal) or other products.

  10. I find myself providing analyses from time to time. I have found it impossible not to have bias to some degree, merely because of the platforms we work with and are familiar with.
    Often it is the case that the solution the client is using is adequate or fine for their situation and it is easy to say "stick with what you have", but in cases where the solution is obviously antiquated or can no longer be scaled to the client’s needs, it is going to be the obvious choice to recommend what you are familiar with, because of course you know its capabilities and limitations. For example, I have worked with PERL in the past and I cannot see myself recommending PERL to any client due to the lack of PERL developers and complexity of the language.
    My guess is the consultant had an affinity for PERL.

  11. While I have been a CF developer for many years, and I love CF, I have to take issue with a couple of arguments here.
    @Ben, you talk about CF being more RAD focused than Perl. I agree that CF out of the box is more RAD than Perl out of the box. But keep in mind that all of the web languages today have frameworks that bring them up to the same level of RAD that we enjoy with CF. For Perl, there is a framework called catalyst, and if you read the marketing speak on their front page, it looks like and ad for ColdFusion. The Zend framework does the same thing for PHP. And even if you can’t find a comparable RAD type feature in a Perl framework that we enjoy in CF, you can grab one of the thousands of Perl modules that are freely available on the net.
    @andy, you are probably right that Perl programmers are not cheap, but ColdFusion programmers are also among the highest paid in the Web Dev world.
    That said, I think this Gartner recommendation was wrong for one major reason. The company is already experienced and established with ColdFusion. Switching to Perl is going to be a lot more expensive than sticking with ColdFusion.

  12. Yeah, shoulda checked that b4 posting 😉
    I can remember using Perl for scripting in Verity Portal One with CFMX6 here at work – and furthermore I see Perl in combination with very old website using some CGI-script for extra functionality. But why use Perl instead of CF? Beats me!

  13. There’s a pretty simple explanation actually, and one that many "impartial" consulting firms are often guilty of. Gartner almost certainly already had a partner development firm lined up who’s expertise was in Perl and would give a percentage of the development costs back to Gartner. This is a tragedy of IT Consulting, especially in a down economy, whereas the true needs of the client take a back seat to the greed of the consulting firm.

  14. Ben,
    I’ve had the pleasure of meeting James and found your summary of him to be spot on. Him and Cote are probably the outside to the norm.
    As for the above rant, I totally get your position and given I’m in the heartland of ASP.NET i often have conflict on how folks right Coldfusion off both externally and at times internally within the Microsoft ethos.
    I’m here at Microsoft simply because Coldfusion gave me a good start in my career, my house was paid from working on Coldfusion and so on. I still this today, despite my passion for .NET tinker with Coldfusion simply because it’s actually a smart, easy and elegant solution to use. I 100% disagree with Gartner’s response to this, that Perl is a better fit. Just stupid.
    I will say this though. Get off your butts, and market this product deeper and wider, In that are you blaming Gartner or is it something you yourself need to work harder at here? Perception is everything these days and sadly we all need to work harder at promoting the gems of this world…
    Anyway I hope you take this as a die hard coldfusion fan, going against my own partlines here by simply saying – you can do better, now get out there and do it, prove Gartner wrong.
    Scott Barnes
    Rich Platforms Product Manager
    Microsoft.

  15. Who are you and what have you done with Scott Barnes?
    😉
    Seriously, I am with you 100 percent here. We (adobe) need to be a bit more clear and CF rocks. Even though it is not my area, I have started making extra effort to promote it. As an old Perl hack, I am still in shock of the origins of the recommendation, even running mod-perl on 64 bit XP.
    Duane

  16. Catalyst and CGI::Application are very good for web programming with Perl. Catalyst requires mod_perl (using mod_perl is easy if you don’t requires every bit of performance) or FastCGI or it’s own server, but CGI::Application can also be run as CGI (which is very convenient sometimes).

  17. Can you send me the name of the analyst and any details on that report.
    The advise didn’t come from me — the primary analyst on the topic — so I’d like to track down the details.
    Thanks,
    Mark Driver
    Research VP — Gartner

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