It all started with a simple tweet from The Mogull, which succinctly summed up a lot of the meat grinder of high tech marketing. You see the industry is based on upgrades and refreshes, largely driven by planned obsolescence. Let’s just look at Microsoft Word. I haven’t really used any new functionality since Office 2003. You? They have overhauled the UI and added some cloudiness (which they call Office Live), but it’s really moving deck chairs around. A word processor is a word processor for 95% of the folks out there.

Rich was reacting to the constant barrage of “next generation” this and next generation that we are constantly get pitched, while most organizations can’t even make the current generation work. It is becoming rare to survive a vendor briefing without hearing about how their product is NextGen (only their product, of course). This is rampant in the spaces I cover: network and endpoint security. Who hasn’t heard of a next generation firewall? Now we have next generation IPS, and it’s just a matter of time before we see next generation TBD promising to make security easy. We know how this movie ends.

To be fair, some innovations really are next generation, and they make a difference to leading edge companies that can take advantage of them. I mentioned NGFW in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, but the reality is that moving away from ports and protocols, to application awareness, is fundamentally different and can be better. But only if the customer can take advantage and build these new application-oriented policies. A NGFW is no better than a CGFW (current generation firewall) without a next-generation rule base to take advantage of the additional capabilities.

I guess what I find most frustrating about the rush to the next generation is the arbitrary nature of what is called “next generation”. Our pals at the Big G (that’s Gartner for you Securosis n00bs) recently published a note on NGIPS (next generation IPS), which you can get from SourceFire (behind a reg wall). As the SourceFire folks kindly point out, they have offered many of these so-called next generation functions since 2003 – they just couldn’t tell a coherent story about it.

Can something over 6 years old really be next generation? So next generation monikers are crap. Driven by backwards-looking indicators – like most big IT research. SourceFire did a crappy job of communicating why their IPS was different back in the day, and it wasn’t until some other companies (notably the NGFW folks) started offing application-aware IPS capabilities that the infinite wisdom in Stamford decided it was suddenly time for NGIPS. And now this will start a vendor hump-a-thon where every other IPS vendor (yeah, the two left) will need to spin their positioning to say ‘NGIPS’ a lot. Whether they really do NGIPS is besides the point. You can’t let the truth get in way of a marketing campaign, can you?

What’s lost in all the NextGen quicksand? What customers need. Most folks don’t need a next generation word processor, but one shows up every 2-3 years like clockwork. Our infrastructure security markets are falling in line with this model. Do we need NextGen key management? NextGen endpoint security? NextGen application protection? Given how well the current generation works, I’d say yes.

But here’s the problem. I know this is largely a marketing exercise, so let’s be clear about what we are looking for. Something that works. Call it what you want, but if it’s the same old crap that we couldn’t use before, rebranded as next generation… I’m not interested. And no one else will be either.