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NetApp Cloud Opportunities and Challenges

By Felix Xavier, Founder, CEO and CTO, CloudByte

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Felix Xavier, Founder, CEO and CTO, CloudByte

While Cloud is recently emerging as a new standard now, storage, and infrastructure service is not new. Such service providers existed in the early 2000s.Even then, NetApp had a significant presence in these service providers market with their multitenant capabilities. These service providers’ market now has emerged as the cloud providers'.And the cloud is expected to be the future form of the storage delivery model, and NetApp is well positioned to win this market, provided it overcomes some of its execution challenges.

NetApp is a leading technology company in the storage space. Its WAFL (Write Anywhere File Layout) file system is one of the great innovations in the history of data storage industry. Even after 20 years, WAFL is the best suited technology for the modern SSDs though their aging code base and older architecture may pose practical challenges for NetApp.

While they started as a low end storage appliance, they pioneered in multi tenancy with their vfiler technology quite some time back. Multi-tenancy is the backbone of modern Cloud storage. Another key requirement for the cloud is API driven management, monitoring and provisioning. NetApp is one of the early vendors who had an API driven product long before the term Software Defined Data Centers emerged. They have a rich set of APIs through their ZAPIs and snap drive technologies.

NetApp has understood the service provider market long before any other vendors have understood it. They are a part of a service platform of many service providers. Being a part of this service platform is a big deal, because the sales team of the provider selling the service is indirectly selling NetApp. In the recent years, as these service providers have turned into infrastructure space.  

According to IDC, the future of the storage delivery model is the Cloud. The emergence of the cloud based delivery model threatens the conventional storage delivery model and all the vendors operating at that space are under pressure to transition into the cloud based delivery model. NetApp is holding a thought leadership in this space with its matured multi-tenant architecture and API driven enterprise storage product suite. NetApp holds a brighter chance to have a smooth transition into the cloud based storage delivery model. 

One of the main challenges for NetApp is a lack of focus to march towards this transition with confidence; this probably needs a strong leadership understanding NetApp's historic strength. So far, NetApp's actions for the latest development in the cloud seem more like a reactive than a proactive technology based solution. For example their deployment in Amazon Web Services, the delivering of software based storage in a hurry, attempting to compete in the relatively value less object storage, etc. They need to think 5 to 10 years ahead of the cloud market and come out with yet another innovative technology leap to get ahead of the competition rather than following the market. It needs a very strong focus and a committed team to deliver.  

Another main challenge is execution; this is mainly due to lack of accountability, formation of political groups and visibility/credit seeking - as opposed to the actual delivery - being the end goal. At some point the accountability was at its rock bottom when the entire engineering management joined together and was ready to lose a very large customer just because that customer was closer to CEO and can potentially bring negative visibility if he encounters the product issues. They had multiple reorgs and might have got rid of the bad elements in recent years; some of the issues might have been fixed by now.

“NetApp's actions for the latest development in the cloud seem more like a reactive than a proactive technology based solution” 

NetApp's founders had once created a very strong culture which enabled their earlier technology development like WAFL, vfiler, etc. Unfortunately they were not able to retain this culture when they grew into a corporation. They need to consistently strive to achieve similar work environments promoting   accountability across levels, devise a mechanism to identify and disband the political groups, and encourage real achievers rather than visibility seekers. It may be harder to identify real achievers or to promote accountability if there are political groups around, and it may be the fundamental problem to solve.  

In summary, NetApp is a historically great storage technology company with so many market leading innovations. Now, storage is at the crossroads, and the storage delivery model is changing towards the Cloud. NetApp needs a strong leadership to get the company's focus right and deliver break-through innovative technology which is ahead of the cloud market while getting around the execution related issues.

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