Perspective: The 10 biggest hype jobs of 2002

With the hypometer in overdrive, industry veteran Jon Oltsik cuts through the baloney and the babble to offer his list of the most overhyped IT technologies and marketing messages.

Jon Oltsik
Jon Oltsik
Jon Oltsik is a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. He is not an employee of CNET.
6 min read
A big part of technology marketing is based upon pure hyperbole because the industry is selling science, and science happens to be a nebulous topic. So combine the vague nature of science with aggressive sales tactics, and what do you get? Hype. As 2002 comes to a close, here are my picks for the year's top 10 most overhyped technologies and marketing messages.

No. 10: Web services
This was a tough call for me. I truly believe Web services will improve application development and integration and has the potential to change the way companies use software. Even so, the technology still remains very immature. XML (Extensible Markup Language) is a good foundation for standards, but data definitions and business semantics remain a battleground. Web services also suffer from a lack of application-level security.

In spite of these technical limitations, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM and others promote Web services as one of the "Seven Wonders of the World." Information technology managers aren't fooled. They may tinker with the technology for internal applications, but they understand that the glorious vision of Web services nirvana is nothing but hype.

No. 9: CRM
Customer relationship management will go down as one of the last of the "bloatware" application suites to be replaced by much more efficient--and elegant--software components. In theory, the CRM concept makes sense: Use customer data to understand behavior and implement applications that help provide better customer services. But you still need a couple of things to succeed: people and business processes. Now that's a novel concept!

Imagine what would happen if chief information officers first worked on fixing the business processes and training people, and then figured out what technology is needed to support this effort. Siebel Systems, SAP or Oracle wouldn't like this too much. I noticed that as 2002 progressed, CRM hyperbole and interest waned. Let's hope this trend continues.

No. 8: "Oracle 9i: Can't break it"
Claims that Oracle 9i is unbreakable sound a lot like the claims made about the unsinkable Titanic. In February, Oracle 9i ran into its own iceberg when British security researcher David Litchfield found numerous security holes, including common buffer overflows and even a flaw that gave hackers administrative access to the entire database. Oracle then released patches to fix the holes, a clear admission that Oracle 9i was not unbreakable.

Oracle's dedication to security is a good thing, but using security to hype its marketing messages is a really, really bad thing. It misleads customers and provides a challenge to hackers and script kiddies. No sane IT manager wants that.

No. 7: Security fear, uncertainty and doubt
In a capitalist society, threats to security (demand) lead to security products (supply). To gain attention, suppliers quote statistics with the sole purpose of scaring the pants off prospective buyers: "In 2001, more than 30 vulnerabilities were discovered each week." "Code Red infected 250,000 systems in less than 10 hours." "Insiders perpetrate approximately 50 percent to 75 percent of all security events," and so on. To say that hackers constitute a threat is as obvious as a bumper sticker that reads, "Mean people suck." Message to the security industry: Business and IT executives understand they have security problems and are willing to spend money to fix the problem. Quit the scare hype: We get it.

No. 6: 10Gb Ethernet
Early in 2002, boosters predicted this technology would take off once the 10Gb Ethernet standard got ratified. That took place in June, and hardly anyone noticed. Here's why: A typical 1-gigabit backbone runs at below 20 percent utilization. Meanwhile, the Internet protocol (IP) services that were supposed to drive the need for speed--such as IP telephony, video and content networking--remain dot-com vaporware. Aside from this, ILECs (incumbent local exchange carriers) are sitting on their SONET base. (SONET stands for synchronous optical network, a format that allows for the transmission of different formats on a single line.)

Meanwhile, the CLECs, DLECs and BLECs have disappeared faster than you can say LEC. Does this mean that we won't hear any more hype from the networking crowd? No way. They've already moved on to MPLS (multi-protocol label switching), wireless, and a host of similarly geeky subjects.

Hyperbole around the tech recovery was as loud in January as it is in December. All of the investment and industry analysts jumped in with their two cents' worth.

No. 5: iSCSI
This was supposed to be the year when Fibre Channel storage area networking technology would start its inevitable decline as it got elbowed aside by iSCSI. But as we're about to enter 2003, iSCSI is still a solution looking for a problem.

Want proof? Cisco Systems, the reigning king of iSCSI hype announced its own family of storage switches this past year that support (guess what?) Fibre Channel only. Users can expect iSCSI to ease its way on to the scene in 2003, and the technology truly does have some promise. But don't expect any more hype about the death of Fibre Channel. Like everything else in the tech world, we'll add new technologies like iSCSI but continue to purchase, operate and maintain the old stuff as well.

No. 4: IBM's eLiza, Sun Microsystems' N1, Hewlett-Packard's Utility Data Center
All these vendor visions of self-configuring, self-healing, self-managing data centers sound like brain surgery or rocket science to me. Haven't Computer Associates, Tivoli Systems and BMC Software been trying to do this for years? The vendors say this time it's different, because they'll control the technology themselves and get partner buy-in. I'm sure Cisco, Oracle and EMC are giddy with excitement at the opportunity to support three different management schemes. On the off chance that this isn't hype, I hope that the next project from IBM, Sun or HP is a self-configuring, self-healing, self-managing car. I'd rather sleep than actually drive.

No. 3: Storage management software
The storage market is crowded, and both revenue and margins are way down. Did these hardships humble storage sellers? Not a bit. Instead they shifted their attention from hardware to software hype, claiming that the new challenge for users was managing distributed storage devices. The floodgates opened as companies such as IBM, HP, Sun, EMC, BMC Software, CA and Veritas Software introduced products with goofy names like AutoIS and WideSky and a bevy of new buzz terms like virtualization, utilization and automation.

So what happened? Almost nothing. Software providers got self-involved in API-swapping, standard-setting, and name-calling, while storage users ignored the whole thing. Note to the storage industry: IT managers aren't doing back flips about adding yet another overhyped and underperforming management tool. Don't get your hopes up that things will change.

No. 2: The tech recovery
Hyperbole around the tech recovery was as loud in January as it is in December. All of the investment and industry analysts jumped in with their two cents' worth. At the beginning of the year, they said the recovery was likely in the third or fourth quarter. Now analysts say not to expect a recovery until late 2003 at the earliest.

They say that only a fool is certain, and that's for sure. I guess that makes me a fool for saying so, but I believe that the slowdown in tech spending will be with us a long, long time. Hype around the tech recovery is likely to make this list again at the end of 2003, 2004 and beyond.

No. 1: ROI
Now that IT budgets are tight, the same companies who claimed that they could help customers drive revenue in the new economy are now saying that their products will help lower IT cost and increase productivity. Each one has a spreadsheet model or an "independent" analyst case study on hand to back up the claim. I recently heard of an IT manager who told the CIO he wanted to buy a product because it could save the department $75,000. The CIO agreed, but only if the manager agreed to cut his budget by $75,000. Needless to say, the manager decided to pass.

The hype around "return on investment" (ROI) is laughable at best and completely unethical at worst. Hey, if the technology industry eliminates its ROI hype, it can reduce head count, cut marketing and advertising budgets and lower printing costs. Now that's real ROI.

Did I miss any? Send me an e-mail and let me know.