NetApp’s Future, do they matter?

A couple of weeks ago I was at a technology event speaking with some of the attendees when the subject of NetApp was raised, accompanied by the question “Are NetApp still relevant?” I was taken a back by this, particularly as over the last few years I felt NetApp had done a great job in re-positioning themselves and changing the view of them as a “traditional” storage company.

However, this message had clearly not reached everyone and made me consider “Does NetApp’s vision really deal with challenges that are relevant to the modern enterprise?” and “have they done enough to shake the traditional storage vendor label?”.

I’m writing this blog 33000 ft above the United States, heading home from NetApp’s Insight conference. Reflecting on the three days in Las Vegas, I wondered, did what I hear answer those questions? and would it keep NetApp relevant for a long time to come?

#DataDriven

The modern tech conference loves a hashtag, one that attempts to capture the theme of the event and #DataDriven was Insight 2018’s entry to the conference hashtag dictionary.

But what does  Data Driven actually mean?

Data plays a significant role in driving modern business outcomes and the way we handle, store and extract information from it, is a keen focus for many of us and this is clearly the same for NetApp.

Throughout Insight,  NetApp stated clearly their vision for the future is to be a data company not a storage one, a subtle but crucial difference. No longer are speeds and feeds (while still important) the thing that drives their decision making, it is Data that is at the heart of NetApp’s strategy, a crucial shift that matches how the majority of NetApp’s customers think.

Data Fabric 2.0

NetApp’s data fabric over the last 4 years has been at the centre of their thinking. Insight however, presented a fundamental shift in how they see the future of data fabric, starting with making it clear it is not “NetApp’s Data Fabric” but “your data fabric”.

A fabric shouldn’t be “owned” by a storage vendor, it is ours to build to meet our own needs. This shift is also driving how NetApp see the future delivery of a data fabric, no longer something that needs building, but “Data Fabric as a Service” a cloud powered set of tools and services that enable your strategy. This is a 180° turn for this approach making it no longer an on-prem infrastructure that integrates cloud services, but a cloud service that integrates and orchestrates all of your data end points regardless of location.

The demonstration of this vision was extremely impressive, the future data fabric was clear in its direction, a fabric is yours, to be consumed as you need it, helping us to deliver services and data as and when we need to, quickly, efficiently and at scale.

The awkward HCI Conversation

Perhaps the most immediate beneficiary of this shift is NetApp’s Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI) platform. NetApp are by no means early in this market and in some quarters there is debate as to whether NetApp HCI is a Hyper Converged platform at all. I’ll admit, while the industry definition of HCI doesn’t really bother me, as technology decisions should be about outcomes not arbitrary definitions, I do have reservations about the long term future of NetApp’s HCI platform.

However, what NetApp showed as part of their future Data Fabric vision was a redefinition of how they see HCI, redefined to the extent that NetApp’s view of HCI is no longer hyper converged but Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure.

What does this mean?

It’s about bringing the cloud “experience” into your datacentre, but this is much more than building a “private cloud” it is about HCI becoming a fully integrated part of a cloud enabled data strategy. Allowing organisations to deploy services and enable the simple movement of them from public cloud to on-prem and back again, making HCI just an end point, a location from which your cloud services could be delivered.

Ultimately HCI shouldn’t be about hardware or software, but outcomes and NetApp’s aim is to allow this technology to speed up your ability to drive those outcomes, regardless of location.

This transformed in my mind a platform from one that I struggled to see its long-term value to something that has the potential to become a critical component in delivering modern services to organisations of all types.

Summary

Did what I hear address the questions raised to me? Would it convince a wider audience that NetApp remain relevant? For that we will have to wait and see.

However, In my opinion NetApp presented a forward thinking, relevant strategy that if executed properly is going to be a fundamental shift in the way they are developing as a company and will ensure they remain relevant to organisations by solving real and complex business challenges.

I’m very interested to see how this new vision for Data Fabric evolves and if they can execute the vision presented so impressively at Insight, they may finally shed that “traditional” NetApp label and become the data authority company that they are aiming to be.

You can get further details on announcements from Insight by visiting the NetApp Insight site and where you will find a wide range of videos including the two general session keynotes.

If you want to find out more about NetApp’s vision for your self, then it’s not to late to register to attend NetApp’s Insight EMEA conference in Barcelona, details are here.

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