Storage

NetApp is deONTAPifying itself, and this is good!

Yesterday I had the chance to sit in the same room with Dave Hitz and Dave Wright, founders of NetApp and Solidfire respectively, among many other great folks from those two companies and I got the impression that I was finally talking to a totally different NetApp compared to just a year ago.

I got the impression that I was finally talking to a totally different NetApp compared to just a year ago.

I don’t know if this is only my personal perception or reality but I invite you to watch the SFD videos recorded during the session so you can make up your own mind about it.

It started one year ago

I have to say that my recent story with NetApp started one year ago, but I’ve been following the evolution of the company for quite some time now. In my previous job I was also a NetApp reseller but, in time, I completely lost all interest in it… it was simply boring. The primary success factor of this company, ONTAP and filers built around it, had become its obsession. In the NetApp mindset everything had to be converted or incorporated into ONTAP. This gave rise to a lot of bad conduct and bad decision making which led in turn to some disaffection even from some of the most loyal customers and partners. I was one of the many who regarded NetApp as a company who had nothing to say except FOR ONTAP…..ONTAP, AND MORE ONTAP

I was one of the many who regarded NetApp as a company who had nothing to say except for ONTAP… ONTAP, ONTAP, and more ONTAP.

One year ago I wrote a post, indeed still one of the most read of my blog, about this obsession of serving every type of workload and data from an ONTAP-based filer. It created some turmoil, a few snarky comments from NetApp fanboys and employees on twitter and a bunch of those emails you always get when you write that type of article. If anything, I have to say that the article contributed to initiating a conversation behind the scenes. Val Bercovici and Lee Casweel had tried many times to chase me down and brief me, something that eventually happened at the beginning of last summer.

In that occasion, I had a long conversation with Lee about the new “data fabric” strategy and, again, I was still convinced that it was all marketing fluff. At the end of the day, everything was still around ONTAP. I was very blunt with him, and I was struck by Lee’s reaction. He actually agreed with me and said they were working to make some changes.

The first signs of a change

In the following months they contacted me to work on a paper about StorageGRID, a platform that I thought was on the verge of a premature death, acquired a few years earlier with the best of intentions but, again internally seen as a threat for ONTAP.

That project helped me to see the first real change in the company strategy. A real acceleration in the development of the product (now in a 6 month release cycle), new interesting features in every new version (including a nice NAS gateway! Yes, a NAS gateway that can compete with FAS appliances installed in remote offices, unbelievable!). And, above all, StoragteGRID has a roadmap that looks strong and credible, even if some of its features and capabilities could overlap with large scale FAS systems…

Since then, Data Fabric started to make more sense to me.

Solidfire

It’s not a secret, I’ve always loved Solidfire. Both the technology and company. And I was happy when I heard about this acquisition. But, you know, my only concern came from NetApp’s history… and my first thought was “will it be another Spinnaker???!”. Fortunately it seems not.

NetApp seems a different company and Solidfire has a very strong culture.

This time it’s different, NetApp seems a different company and Solidfire has a very strong culture. I noticed from the first slide deck they showed me. In fact the slides clearly had the blue and red of both companies as well as the brands represented with the same size and relevance. I saw it as a good sign, and it was confirmed by many conversations I had with representatives from both companies. My initial impression was once again confirmed a few weeks ago when I recorded a podcast with Lee Caswell.

One of the best moments yesterday was when Dave Hitz admitted that his company had been blinded by its own success. And you know, recognizing a problem is always the first step towards its solution.

I can’t say how long it will last but, again, yesterday the impression of two teams collaborating together to pursue a common goal was still there.

Data Fabric

DataFabric_DeploymentData Fabric does make much more sense to me now. Especially after yesterday. Looking at NetApp’s demo, which I strongly recommend you watch, data mobility between different NetApp products and public clouds shouldn’t be a big problem any longer. This stuff is not available yet, but all the pieces are already there and the real products will hit the market soon.

I found it really compelling that they’ve chosen SnapMirror replication protocol to achieve this. All vendors should do cross-platform replication from my POV, but this is the first time I’ve seen it realized.

And it’s really cool to see that also SolidFire ElementOS will soon have SnapMirror support!

Closing the circle

I like the new NetApp, multi product line-up company, with an attentive eye on integration which is quite uncommon. And I also love that it’s not trying to ONTAPify everything any longer.

I love that NetApp is not trying to ONTAPify everything any longer.

Hand with marker writing: New Mindset -> New ResultsThe company has changed dramatically in this last year and the Solidfire acquisition is the icing on the cake. It brings fresh ideas, A different minded engineering team, a great product and lot of credibility to the All-Flash strategy. If they don’t mess up with the integration of the two organizations and will be able to convince key engineering figures to stay with the company for a while, this could easily become a big success. Something like what 3PAR has been for HP in the past.

With this article, I’m not saying that NetApp will suddenly turn its luck around and begin to grow again like in the past. But my feeling about them has definitely changed, and I now find that they are less boring and more interesting than in the recent past. Long story short, more credible and compelling, with a good chance of becoming cool again.

Now, getting our feet and expectations back on the ground… I’d like to see the practical advantages of the collaboration between SolidFire and NetApp engineering sooner rather than later. For me SnapMirror on SolidFire is cool, but leveraging the NetApp experience to have NFS, SMB and S3 API support would be even better and would make Solidfire SF a truly complete platform for a larger number of use cases. And this is just the first thing that comes to my mind… and would confirm that they are going in the right direction when it comes to integrating the two entities…

Disclaimer: NetApp is a sponsor of next TECHunplugged in London

TECHunpluggedIf you want to know more about this topic, I’ll be presenting at next TECHunplugged conference in London on 12/5/16. A one day event focused on cloud computing and IT infrastructure with an innovative formula combines a group of independent, insightful and well-recognized bloggers with disruptive technology vendors and end users who manage rich technology environments. Join us!

Independent Analyst, trusted advisor and Blogger (not necessarily in that order. Having been immersed into IT environments for over 20 years, Enrico's career began with Assembler in the second half of the 80's before moving on to UNIX platforms (but always with the Mac at heart) until now when he joined the "Cloudland". He is constantly keeping an eye on how the market evolves for new ideas and continuously looking for new ideas and innovative solutions. He's a fond sailor and unsuccessful fisherman. You can find Enrico's social profiles here: http://about.me/esignoretti

  • Who still remembers the Spinnaker acquisition.. took like 5+ years to integrate that global name space into NetApp’s GSX clustered product line.

  • The ONTAP song and endless verbiage about ONTAP is the reason why I stopped giving a damn about NetApp a couple years ago. ONTAP was everywhere, hour long presentations on ONTAP, then the challenges of whether we should go with 7-Mode or with Cluster Mode and the compromises/caveats of each mode. While the storage industry was moving forward I had the feeling that NetApp was doomed to disappear, I even welcomed the SolidFire acquisition with disbelief… However the first signs I’ve had at TFDx in Berlin (discussions with Jeremiah Dooley for example) proved me wrong and what you are saying, plus the comprehensive presos two days ago at SFD9 convinced me that NetApp has truly changed. NetApp had glorious days in the past with its FAS filers, ONTAP etc… It’s reassuring that the company is able to acknowledge its past and move forward to exciting times, especially with SolidFire. I’ll look forward to the news.