NetApp, The Cloud Company?

051718_1626_NetAppTheCl1.jpgLast week I was fortunate enough to be invited to NetApp’s HQ in Sunnyvale to spend 2 days with their leadership hearing about strategy, product updates and futures (under very strict NDA, so don’t ask! ) as part of the annual NetApp A-Team briefing session. This happened in a week were NetApp revealed their spring product updates which, alongside a raft of added capabilities to existing products, also included a new relationship with Google Compute Platform (GCP).

The GCP announcement now means NetApp offer services to the 3 largest hyperscale platform providers. Yes that’s right, NetApp the “traditional” On-prem storage vendor are offering an increasing amount of cloud services and what struck me while listening to their senior executives and technologists was this is not just a faint nod to cloud but is central to NetApp’s evolving strategy.

But why would a storage vendor have public cloud so central to their thinking? It’s a good question and I think the answer lies in the technology landscape many of us operate in. The use of cloud is commonplace, its flexibility and scale are driving new technology into businesses more quickly and easily than ever before.

However, this comes with its own challenges, while quick and easy is fine for deploying services and compute, the same can not be said of our data and storage repositories, not only does data continue to have significant “weight” but it also comes with additional challenges, especially when we consider compliance and security. It’s critical in a modern data platform that our data has as much flexibility as the services and compute that need to access it, while at the same time, allowing us to maintain full control and stringent security.

NetApp has identified this challenge as something upon which they can build their business strategy and you can see evidence of this within their spring technology announcements not only as they tightly integrate cloud into their “traditional” platforms, but also the continued development of cloud native services such as those in the GCP announcement, the additional capabilities in AWS and Azure, as well as Cloud Volumes and services such as SaaS backup and Cloud Sync. It is further reflected in an intelligent acquisition and partnering strategy with a focus on those who bring automation, orchestration and management to hybrid environments.

Is NetApp the on-prem traditional storage vendor no more?

In my opinion this is an emphatic no. During our visit we heard from NetApp Founder Dave Hitz, he talked about NetApp’s view of cloud and how initially they realised that it was something they needed to understand and decided to take a gamble on it and its potential. What was refreshing was that they did this without any guarantees they could make money from cloud, but just they understood how potentially important it would be.

Over the last 4 years NetApp has been reinvigorated with a solid strategy built around their data fabric and this strong cloud centric vision, which has not only seen share prices rocket, but has also seen market share and revenue grow. That growth has not been from cloud services alone, in fact the majority is from strong sales of their “traditional” on-prem platforms and they are convinced this growth has been driven by their embracing of cloud, a coherent strategy that looks to ensure your data is where you need it, when you need it, while maintaining all of the enterprise class qualities you’d expect on-prem, whether the data is in your datacentre, near the cloud or in it.

Are NetApp a cloud company?

No. Are they changing? Most certainly.

Their data fabric message honed over the last 4 years is now mature in not only strategy but in execution, with NetApp platforms, driven by ONTAP as a common transport engine, providing a capability to move data between platforms be they on-prem, near the cloud or straight into public hyperscalers, while crucially maintaining the high quality of data services and management we are used to within our enterprise across all of those repositories.

This strategy is core to NetApp and their success and it certainly resonates with businesses that I speak with as they become more data focussed than ever, driven by compliance, cost or the need to garner greater value from their data. Businesses do not want their data locked away in silo’s, nor do they want it at risk when they move it to new platforms to take advantage of new tools and services.

While NetApp are not a cloud company, during the two days It seemed clear to me that their embracing of cloud puts them in a unique position when it comes to providing data services. As businesses look to develop their modern data strategy they would be, in my opinion, remiss to not at least understand NetApp’s strategy and data fabric and the value that approach can bring, regardless of ultimately if they use NetApp technology or not.

NetApp’s changes over the last few years have been significant and their future vision is fascinating and I for one look forward to seeing their continued development and success.

For more information on the recent spring announcements, you can review the following;

The NetApp official Press Release

Blog post by Chris Maki summarising the new features in ONTAP 9.4

The following NetApp blogs provide more detail on a number of individual announcements;

New Fabric Pool Capabilities

The new AFF A800 Platform

Google Compute Platform Announcement

Latest NMVe announcements

Tech ONTAP Podcast – ONTAP 9.4 Overview

 

 

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