As some of you may know one of my technology industry bug bears is when commentators start to write off a company who has had great success in the past but now they’ve decided are no longer “cool” or the “in thing”.
We’ve all seen it, the 90’s Apple, early 2010’s Microsoft, the constantly doomed HP and IBM amongst others who are either being written off or have been in the past, yet, they are all still here.
There’s all kind of reasons companies get written off, sometimes they deserve it, sometimes they don’t, but it’s always nice when you see them prove the critics wrong and turn the industry view around.
The latest Gartner Magic Quadrant for solid state arrays gives me the chance to pat one such company on the back, take a bow NetApp, as you can see proudly placed in the top right hand side leaders’ quadrant.
But wait, they are not quite up there with Pure and EMC, so why the congratulations?
Let me try to add a little bit of context.
Now I’m not going to pretend that I don’t have a favouritism toward NetApp, a cursory glance at my BLOG and other social output shows I have a real affinity with the technology and put NetApp right at the top of enterprise tech companies who solve real business problems and show vision in their part of the industry.
But they certainly do not get everything right, their flash strategy has been one such area. Like many established vendors they were slow to market with a robust enterprise flash offering and seem to have been taken by surprise by new flash focussed storage players.
Why this happened is unclear, maybe the focus on completing clustered ONTAP (culminating in the excellent ONTAP9), the effort put into building the now defunct FlashRay, not seeing the speed at which flash would be adopted or just failing to communicate their strategy has all led to them being “written off” by many tech industry watchers and whether true or not, sometimes the perception is all that matters.
If we look at the 2014 magic quadrant, you can see NetApp not only lagging behind many of the established players, but also a perception they lacked the vision shown by a number of the new kids on the storage block.
However, over the last couple of years NetApp have responded to this with a huge change in how they view flash, not only technically, but also importantly, commercially.
So why did this perception grow and what have they changed?
One criticism levelled at them is they are the ONTAP company, ONTAP is the answer regardless of the question. In reality this is a perception problem because NetApp are very much a portfolio company, from ONTAP to OnCommand Insight manager, AltaVault to E-Series, there is a range of solutions to take on any business challenge.
However, is this to dismiss ONTAP? most certainly not, as the power of this robust and flexible operating system is a huge part of their turnaround in flashy fortunes.
The argument that traditional vendors putting flash into existing products is not as good a solution as those who designed and built for flash from the start, may, for some, be valid. For NetApp however, by luck or by amazingly long sighted judgement, they found ONTAP was perfectly designed for flash. In reality ONTAP has always used flash, with writes to a controller written to flash before disk and the introduction of a flash based read cache into controllers means ONTAP has exploited the benefits of flash for a very long time.
A change in focus to how ONTAP could be optimised for flash has led to two years of incredibly quick development of the platform, bringing all flash variants of NetApp FAS controllers (AFF), these deliver flash performance while maintaining all of the enterprise capabilities for efficiency, data protection, resilience and scale you would expect and demand of enterprise storage.
ONTAP is also the heart of the NetApp data fabric strategy, ensuring that your data can move freely between any NetApp repository regardless of platform or location, on-premises, near the cloud or in it, this means that unlike many flash based solutions, you can integrate flash seamlessly as part of your data strategy while avoiding the dreaded problem of flash storage silo’s.
ONTAP 9 has further enhanced this by making flash even more commercially viable, increasing not only performance but critically providing even greater storage efficiency, allowing users to squeeze even more data into their flash array with NetApp even backing this via a capacity guarantee.
No review of a NetApp flash strategy, including this one from Gartner, would be complete without mentioning Solidfire, their acquisition has further strengthened the NetApp vision. Solidfire with their unique approach to webscale storage has seen them again recognised in this report with the highest overall score for critical capabilities in the quadrant.
If we include with that, their new licence model, making your storage capacity licence completely independent of your hardware, you can see innovations both technically and commercially from all areas of the NetApp portfolio.
All of this has led to this recognition from Gartner, regardless of your view of Gartner Magic Quadrants and there are many views of their validity. For me, what they present is a datum point, where you can judge the progress made by key vendors, you can see the list in 2014 and 2016 is made up of the same players. This gives you a view of those progressing and maybe those that aren’t and it’s clear that NetApp have made some great flash progress, more to do? Certainly, but for now, take a bow and carry on.
The Gartner Magic Quadrant graphic was published by Gartner, Inc. as part of a larger research document and should be evaluated in the context of the entire document. The Gartner document is available upon request from NetApp.
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