Gartner has been forced to delay a Magic Quadrant report for at least six months due to the mass departure of pivotal analysts covering the enterprise data center space.

News emerged at the start of this week that analysts Dave Russell and Pushan Rinnen were leaving to join vendors. The duo were the mainstays of the Gartner team covering data backup. It’s now public that their counterpart in the EMEA region, Robert Rhame, is also moving on.

Their timing was remarkable: Gartner was due to kick off research for its 2018 Magic Quadrant for Data Center Backup and Recovery Solutions last week. With all three authors choosing to leave Gartner, the firm had no credible option but to delay the start of the report: this is now on ice until 2019.

What is notable is that vendors were informed of the slew of departures by no other than Mike Harris, SVP and head of the IT Leaders and Technical Professionals research business within Gartner. Usually, these notifications come from a team MVP.

Gartner’s roster of analysts covering the data center infrastructure space has been steadily weakening over the past year, with the remaining analysts covering enterprise hardware under pressure not to attend vendor events. Instead, they are instructed to optimize their time to help end-user technology buyer customers – which effectively means blocking up to four-hour chunks in their daily calendar to field the high volume of inquiry calls.

The retirement of veteran guru data center analysts Andy Butler (October 2017) and George Weiss (May 2018) was already a blow, and recently, former EMC marketing exec turned analyst JP Corriveau handed in his notice, to return to the vendor side. Gartner also lost storage MVP Errol Rasit at the start of the year.

It’s two vendors who have led to this disruption within Gartner: Veeam and Rubrik. Both are cloud data management firms, which hints at the future direction of the backup market. Corriveau and Russell have joined privately-held Veeam, while Rinnen, Rhame and another former Gartner analyst Ray Schafer have joined Rubrik.

Any behind-the-scenes insights that these vendors hoped to have gained in how to wrangle the backup MQ now seem to be lost, since Gartner has put the refresh on hold for at least six months. That’s still quite an aggressive timescale, since the team of analysts taking over this beat will also want to adjust the MQ in line with their perceptions of changing market and customer needs.

More than just a change of schedule

However, for vendors, the MQ delay is more than a change of schedule. It means starting over in building relationships with the analysts who will take over one of the few remaining MQs in the hardware space. (Quadrants for servers and client computing devices have long been furloughed in favor of infrequently-updated Market Guides.)

In his mail to affected vendors, Gartner SVP Harris only scratches the surface of the impact of this treble whammy, noting: “This has been a difficult decision, especially given the time and resources invested in the process of communicating the included vendors’ respective value propositions.” That’s an understatement, since right now, Gartner will struggle to field those valuable backup-related inquiries from its enterprise subscribers, let alone start the task of updating a Magic Quadrant and the associated Critical Capabilities report.

Frustrated vendors won’t have much luck either if they turn to Forrester: in this space, Rich Fichera is the firm’s last analyst still covering data center hardware.

This is an unprecedented opportunity for the smaller analyst firms in this space to take a bite from Gartner’s enormous slide of the pie. We’re expecting the charge will be led by the ever-competent Enterprise Strategy Group.

It’s also a great opportunity for smaller backup vendors to punch above their weight, by focusing on Gartner Peer Reviews. As the backup MQ gets long in the tooth, so buyers will be more swayed by reviews from their peers – especially with a shortfall of experienced, knowledgeable analysts at Gartner to explain the possible pitfalls. As a top executive at Gartner recently put it, “Using peer reviews is like driving with the rear view mirror… you need the analysts to spot the bend around the corner”.

If you want a clue as to what’s ahead, note that Veeam and Rubrik both focus on cloud-based storage and data management.

But it looks like a twisty road to recovery for Gartner.