GIS consultants and organisations that use GIS have different needs. Consultants tend to use lots of different software, for short amounts of time, whereas organisations make daily use of software from a single vendor. ESRI have followed Microsoft’s approach of a Developers’ Network (MSDN). This allows the whole ESRI stack to be used for “development, testing, and demonstration” at a reduced price. $1500 dollars gets you an ESRI Developer Network subscription, rising to $2000 if you also want the desktop applications (ArcMap, ArcCatalog etc.).
Getting as many GIS consultants trained in developing for ESRI products will result in more ESRI products being used by the consultant’s clients. However as ESRI also provide consultancy services independent consultants are often direct competitors. This can mean getting a EDN license may not be as simple as signing up on the website.
Smaller players in the GIS market may see a consultancy as a chance to sell a few licenses, especially if the consultants have to develop for top-end products such as web servers. While the client often pays for this license during development, once the system is deployed there is no easy way to provide maintenance on it without continuing to pay for a separate license. I see this as very short-sighted in the long term – the barriers to trying out new software for developers should be removed, rather than added.
All this is against a backdrop of web mapping (aka the geoweb) APIs from Google and Microsoft which are provided for free, along with fast, free, background mapping. The introduction of spatial functions into SQL Server 2008 Express has meant that consultants with MSDN development can be carried out at no cost.