NetApp was founded in 1992 as a producer of small to midrange file servers. It gained early traction when users found that they could consolidate multiple Windows file servers down to one NetApp box. NetApp went on to take-on all the big storage players, attaining a Fortune 500 ranking in 2012. At that time, NetApp was a leading supplier of storage for VMware environments—much to the chagrin of EMC who owned VMware.
But the winds that filled NetApp’s sails in the past are rapidly shifting. Applications and the data that supports them are migrating to the public cloud. Containers and Kubernetes now challenge Virtual Machine environments managed by VMware vSphere. And here at Insight 2019 in Las Vegas, NetApp is making no secret of the fact that a change in course is now required to keep up the momentum established early-on.
A few years ago, NetApp made a strategically significant decision to follow their users to the public cloud. At this point in time, their big storage competitors were trying to preserve their on-premises storage domains by questioning a CIO’s rational for moving to the cloud. But rather than challenge their cloud-bound decisions, NetApp built options that gave its users NetApp storage in the cloud. The cloud investments they made back then are now paying dividends with multiple Petabytes of NetApp-managed data in AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. They are also attracting cloud customers that never used NetApp storage before with Azure NetApp Files, and Cloud Volumes Service for AWS and Google Cloud.
To grow its user base, NetApp has adopted initiatives to expand its customer prospect reach beyond enterprise IT operations to include developers, data architects and cloud management groups. To that end it offers NetApp Kubernetes Services, a “cloud native” platform for Kubernetes container management that can be integrated with NetApp’s data center-oriented storage services.
And to give users a more public cloud-like buying experience, it announced Keystone—a set of consumption-oriented acquisition alternatives that streamline the buying process and are in step with users who are shifting IT-related financial resources to OPEX budgets.
However, challenges remain. NetApp was early to market with a vision of interconnecting all enterprise data holdings into what it called a Data Fabric. However, the market messaging has shifted focus from projecting Data Fabric as something that seemed like a product to something a customer would build using the NetApp product portfolio and, more particularly, its data copy, containerization and management software.
During his opening keynote, CEO George Kurian stated that, at its heart, NetApp was a software company. However, the Keystone announcements made at this year’s Insight show a NetApp moving in a services direction. NetApp as a data services company that spans multiple cloud environment would be a truly transformative move.