By An Articulation By Mike Bernhardt

December 6, 2004

So here we are once again. The holiday season. A time for joy. A time for sharing.

And along with the associated seasonal stereotyping of cold, winter weather and corporate expectations of holiday season shopping frenzy, comes the season of hype.

Hype is in the air.

Much is being said today about all the “hype” in the Grid computing market space, and how damaging it is to establishing a business case for Grid in commercial enterprises. Concerns about this rampant hype are voiced steadily in articles, on web sites and in public forums.

I'm a marketing person to the core, but I'll be the first to admit — marketing hype has negatively impacted corporate perception of Grid computing.

And that's too bad, because hype is a necessary element in the development of any emerging market.

Think about it. Is it really such a bad thing?

After all, what is hype?

It's a noun. It's a verb. It sounds like tripe. And yes, it is a four letter word.

Most dictionaries define it as blatant or sensational promotion.

Actually, it sounds perfectly fitting for the holiday season.

So why is all the hype so hard to digest?

Hype is certainly not a new concept in high tech marketing. But in a market surge that caught many by surprise, dozens of vendors looking to stake an early claim in Grid computing leadership may have jumped the gun just a bit in making some of their claims about the readiness of certain Grid components and middleware. Is that hype? Or is it an overabundance of enthusiasm and optimism?

Unfortunately, it turns out, quite a bit of it is hype.

According to numerous surveys on commercial Grid adoption, not only do IT execs have a problem agreeing on “what” Grid is … they are thoroughly confused by the exaggerated claims of Grid computing success. The problem then becomes the undermining of the real success stories and the danger of having early market success metrics dumped into the same category as the hyperbolic claims … in other words, all Grid stories go into the hype bucket.

That's certainly not what the marketers are after. That's not what any of us want to see.

The label of “hype” puts such a negative spin on the monumental efforts of marketing groups simply trying to raise awareness of their company's products or technologies. As dozens of young companies attempt to carve out a position in a rapidly evolving and fiercely competitive market segment, it's understandable that innocent marketing enthusiasm gets compared to a cafeteria line of hot, steaming plates of hype. The Grid computing market segment has a growing number of organizations attempting to create a “larger than life” image — perhaps embellishing a bit of early success — or even projecting some of their own views on adoption, acceptance, and success. The hype in this case is the bad apple that is spoiling the entire barrel.

Grid computing is a very exciting topic. When someone gets excited about the myriad of “possibilities” enabled by Grid computing, it's difficult not to peg the hype meter.

But, however you look at it, for many IT decision makers and for many of the purists within the Grid technical community, the hype is hard to digest.

Might I suggest … during this season that's supposed to represent the universal desire for peace and harmony, we all step back and approach the subject of marketing hype from a different perspective.

To some people, well articulated marketing hype is considered an art form.

To me, it brings an interesting parallel to mind and raises an interesting question.

Is it HYPE or is it TRIPE?

Having grown up in Lancaster, Penn., in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country, I was very familiar with a peculiar dish called Tripe.

Tripe. Ask the people in your office how many of them have heard of tripe. Then ask them how many have actually tried it.

Just to clarify, tripe is the muscular lining of a bovine stomach. At least that's the traditional definition.

I always thought tripe was an Amish dish, but one of our lead researchers, InGrid Ouitrust, corrected me by pointing out numerous references to tripe in Greek mythology.

I should have known this dish couldn't have come from the same culture as shoo-fly pie.

Going back to the Roman Empire and even ancient Greece, most recipes for tripe call for at least 12 hours of sealed cooking — that's one half day of cooking time. Well, they say that most unpleasant things become a little more digestible over time. Do ya think?

Let's digress for a moment.

Tripe — like hype — is everywhere. And in some cultures, it's even elevated to an art form. In fact, while tripe, a dish that many find repulsive, is laboriously cooked and prepared in dozens of countries, recipes in Italy and France are quite elaborate and according to many well-respected food critics, quite tasty. There's no doubt, tripe is considered a very special dish in Normandy. The Normans even add their magic elixir, Calvados, that wonderful apple brandy that's guaranteed to make anything digestible, right into the cook pot. In fact, the French are so serious about their tripe that they even have a special cooking pot called a tripiere.

The city of Caen is known as the center for tripe cuisine in France. Since tripe requires such lengthy preparation, many restaurants in Caen will offer it on certain days as the “specialte du jour.” Perhaps on your next visit, you may want to try, “tripes a la mode de Caen.” You see, even tripe can sound appealing if packaged properly.

Getting back to Grid computing, a number of French organizations such as CNRS are spearheading very respectable efforts in pushing the envelope of Grid computing. And for a country that has more than its share of tripe, when it comes to Grid computing, we find very little hype.

Throughout the regions of Italy there are many variations of specialty tripe dishes. For example, Trippa alla Fiorentina is braised with tomato and marjoram, served on a piece of bread called “Lampredotto,” and accompanied by white beans and grated cheese.

The Italians also have numerous Grid projects and initiatives under way. All very respectable, such as the efforts at the University of Calabria, and all presented to the public in very good taste. And I have to say, while I have no desire to try digesting any tripe, I probably would consider Trippa alla Fiorentina. With a nice chianti of course.

And, not to be outdone, the English have their own variation of tripe. A common way of serving tripe in the north of England is cold with vinegar. Yum. Thanks mum.

Throughout Europe, GridPP has received quite a bit of visibility and we have not seen any portions of hype, tripe or vinegar, although, from the mouths of some vendors there seems to be a little excessive seasoning.

One of the best-known tripe recipes in America, Philadelphia Pepper Pot, did actually originate with the Pennsylvania Dutch. You can see why I was misled as a child. The first major conference focused on the commercial applications of Grid computing, Gt'04, took place in Philadelphia this past year, and the “City of Brotherly Love” will likely be the location for Gt'05. Philadelphia is one of those cities that despite all the promotional hype … well, it's still Philadelphia. What can I say? A fitting home for tripe?

So, whether you find this comparative discussion repulsive or mouth-watering, there's one thing that has been documented throughout history, tripe, like hype, for many is hard to digest.

But it serves a purpose. Originally, it provided a source of nutrition for those who couldn't afford more preferred parts of the bovine anatomy.

Some might say it's an acquired taste, while others would say it leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.

Today, the word “tripe,” apart from its culinary meaning, still carries a negative connotation. “That claim is a load of tripe!” Tripe and hype have become somewhat interchangeable as hard to digest … hard to swallow.

As food goes, tripe is known for being cheap and nutritious, and as such it has survived centuries of criticism. I think we can say the same for hype.

As Grid marketing goes, hype is also considered cheap. But in some sense, might it also be nutritious in that it feeds the hungry minds of technology adopters?

The “technologists” at the core of Grid development are mostly purists and avoid hype just like most of us choose to avoid tripe. The commercial vendors trying to stake their claims in this evolving market might look to their scientific and academic brothers and sisters for guidance in this area. Stick to the facts. Avoid the hype. It's a good recipe that will benefit all of us in the long run.

We really can't determine if certain market discussions are hype until some time passes. What is clearly in the category of hype are the exaggerated claims of small, individual component or piecemeal accomplishments of Grid implementation being presented as enterprise-wide, ready for prime time Grid success stories. Obvious false claims disguised as marketing hype are as indigestible as a barrel of tripe. And they leave a very bad taste.

Grid computing is real, but, contrary to some wishful thinking and marketing hype, it's not quite ready for massive commercial adoption. And many early adopters are reporting very encouraging progress.

I'll say it again … Grid computing is real. It is certainly not “vaporware.”

Ahh, yes … vaporware. Haven't heard that term in some time. Reminds me of the foul stench of tripe as it is being prepared. Now that's a comparison that should not be overlooked.

None of us want to tolerate vaporware. It stinks! Marketing gurus — keep that in mind.

Unfortunately, over the past 20 years of technology marketing, wild claims and unfulfilled promises — the promotion of vaporware — has resulted in marketing promotion being too quickly labeled as “hype” and the word “hype” is now synonymous with “spin” or even “lies.”

Hype, when used properly, is a component that gets the wheels spinning and creates market momentum. That's the hype I find quite tasteful.

Hype, when served up like tripe, is one man's delicacy and another man's garbage. That's the hype that gags many of us.

If your grid computing marketing campaign requires a little hype, please, serve it up in good taste.

Why take a chance on leaving your prospects and customers with a bad case of indigestion?

Special thanks to InGrid Ouitrust for her diligent research on this delicious topic.

About Mike Bernhardt

Mike Bernhardt is the CEO of Grid Strategies Inc. Grid Strategies is a niche market consulting and advisory group specializing in take-to-market strategy and business development programs for clients of all sizes with a desire to create, reposition or enhance their images within the HPC (High Performance Computing) and emerging Grid computing market segments. Bernhardt can be reached at [email protected].

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