Last week, NetApp chose its Insight customer/partner conference to make a number of product announcements that, taken together, mark a multifaceted expansion into public, private, and hybrid cloud deployments. At the heart of these announcements is NetApp’s Data Fabric strategy that marks another milestone in the evolution of NetApp from its beginnings as Network Appliance, a producer of NAS filers, to its current position as a $6B provider of data storage solutions. The Data Fabric strategy aims to reposition NetApp as a global data management company.
NetApp’s belief is that customers need a more unified view of enterprise data so that they can store, access, protect, share and archive data in consistent and predictable ways across multiple internal and external data centers. In addition, data management consistency and predictability should be extensible across multiple environments including multiple private and public clouds and remote offices. In this way, a public cloud provider (AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform) becomes an extension of the enterprise data center.
With the announcements of Clustered Data ONTAP v 8.3.1, Cloud ONTAP, Private Storage for Cloud, and OnCommand Cloud Manager, Clustered Data ONTAP becomes the foundation of NetApp’s Data Fabric. Future enhancements to Clustered Data ONTAP will support and push the Data Fabric strategy forward.
At Insight, both CEO Tom Georgens and SVP/CTO Jay Kidd shared their visions for how the Data Fabric could be used by enterprises. They outlined use cases which include:
NetApp also announced the acquisition of Riverbed’s SteelStore product line to facilitate cloud-based data protection and archiving. SteelStore technology currently supports disk-to-cloud and tape-to-cloud data copy and migration processes to cloud services providers.
Insight featured an opening keynote from CEO and Board Chairman Tom Georgens that was notable for its directness and candor (i.e. not scripted by Marketing). I have noted in earlier posts on EMC and Hitachi Data Systems that the enterprise storage industry is in a state of transition that is driven by the confluence of multiple technological advancement including Flash, software-defined storage, cloud, and converged/hyper-converged systems. At Insight, Georgens gave an audience of 5,000 his take on all of these and how NetApp will respond.
Flash-based solid state storage is an important part of the enterprise storage hierarchy and should be implemented in relation to other storage price/performance alternatives that include disk and cloud. For Flash to become truly mainstream, it has to address the often significant degradation in the value of data to an organization over time. Therefore, NetApp will continue to advance both all-flash and flash/disk hybrid storage solutions. My take: Georgens has taken some heat lately for NetApp’s Flash strategy in the face of increasing competition and the perception that Flash will eventually replace disk. However, if saving all data forever is becoming an increasingly unsustainable enterprise IT practice, saving everything on Flash is even more so as a business proposition. There will always be storage options with different price, performance, and density characteristics for users to leverage to achieve price-for-storage efficiency.
Public clouds are compelling for certain use cases and that the hyperscale players such as Amazon, Microsoft Azure, and Google have a role to play in enterprise IT because they offer lower-cost infrastructure of any size that can be quickly spun up or down. Cloud is also a cost-effective endpoint vs. the on premise appliance model for backup and archival data and an agile application development environment. However, fully leveraging the public cloud’s scale economies will require seamless integration. My reaction: Indeed, seamless integration and consistency of management will indeed be needed. Delivery may also be the biggest challenge.
Customer interest in FlexPod, NetApp’s “best of breed” approach to building converged systems, is increasing. NetApp will continue to integrate new technology from outside sources into FlexPod while preserving configuration choice. However, I noted Cisco’s presence on the Insight main stage as both a technology and go-to-market partner for FlexPod. The keynote appearance was interesting in light of Cisco’s recent departure from the EMC VCE consortium.
SDS is where cloud and enterprise data management meet one another and that data management is key to NetApp’s strategy going forward. SDS for NetApp will likely be delivered in the form of data management capabilities that are independent of NetApp hardware and span multiple enterprise and public cloud environments. My impression: From here it is no great stretch to get from Clustered Data ONTAP as software running on NetApp-only hardware to a hardware-independent version. Such an announcement would further instantiate the Data Fabric strategy and reinforce NetApp’s projection of itself as a data management company.
Insight 2014 can be seen as a milestone event in the evolution of NetApp from a maker of network-attached filers to the enterprise data management company it now aspires to be. This evolution seems natural as an expansion from its beginning in the storage and management of small file-based siloes of data to one that now espouses a Data Fabric vision that encompasses Flash and disk; file, block, and object; as well as private, public and hybrid cloud. CEO Georgens noted more than once at the event that “as Clustered ONTAP goes, so goes NetApp.”