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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of dining with two distinguished gentleman, both analysts, both very smart. One of them was Ben Woo…yes I am sucking up to him 🙂

As we talked shop, the third person of our party said something that was surprising, yet refreshing. In all fairness to this person, I am paraphrasing. But the gist of his statement was, “To this day, nobody has really explained what “enterprise-grade” means.”

And I thought I was the only one that never knew what that term “officially” meant…

As analysts covering areas of IT (storage, datacenters, software, Big Data, etc.), we have been inundated with that term. This specifically happens when a IT-focused startup or young company is attempting to acquire larger companies as customers. I am specifically talking about those companies generating, more or less, $1B in annual revenue. Clearly, these companies will have IT departments, and they must go through some checklist to ensure that any product deployed into their companies will “work”. In other words, the likelihood that some huge issue, such as an outage or security breach, is very small. Or that small issues do not occur on a regular basis that ultimately affects end users, resulting in continuous calls to support. IT wants to focus on building something, and having it run smoothly.

But to date, there is not ONE definition that is attached with “enterprise-grade”. I even Googled the term – there appears to be no definition in any official dictionary, yet there is an official definition for D’OH in the Merriam-Webster Online Version (’oh). Those that I found differed in length and scope. I also looked up definitions of “enterprise-class”, a synonym for “enterprise-grade”. The few that I uncovered were not official definitions also.

My point is this…if the term “enterprise-grade” is used so often, should there not be some standard by which this is measured? Of course, there may be different gradients of “enterprise-grade”. However, I believe that the term is used as a catch-all term that is used too easily and loosely.

I would propose that “enterprise-grade” subscribe to a minimum of criteria that will show potential customers, both IT and end users, that the term has been closely considered. Simply because it seems as if we ALL have some idea of what it means, but it does not necessarily mean that we are speaking from the same page.

After some discussion with random people, I argue that “enterprise-grade” encompass the following, considering both the IT and end users’ perspectives:

Of course, the majority of enterprises will go through extensive evaluations, bake-offs, feature negotiation, etc. to ensure that the IT product ultimately serves ALL of their specific needs. However, I am suggesting that these are primary concerns to address to some level of detail when talking to others about “enterprise-grade”. I am arguing, however, that “enterprise-grade” needs to focus on the two main stakeholders – IT and the end user. Because they get to live with the product daily. And ultimately, you need to make them both happy.

A final note: My fill of the term “enterprise-grade” occurred at the Hadoop Summit held in early June. Check out our report to be published in the next couple of days to learn about our impressions and what it means for the Hadoop opportunity.