NetApp recently held its annual Analyst Summit. As one might expect from a company constantly ranked as a good place to work, there was plenty of open-ness and a frank appraisal of where stumbles had occurred in recent years – the combination of delays in getting to clustered ONTAP, a massive government IT spending squeeze (significant for NetApp as it does a huge amount of government work), and the recent general softening of the overall storage industry had hardly been conducive to great times for this industry icon of ‘up and to the right.' CEO Tom Georgens summarized it simply by pointing out that there has to come a time when you simply “shut up and fix it." Well, apparently that work is essentially done, and so the Analyst Summit was in many respects a coming-out party. How did NetApp do? There’s some more written commentary below, but first here’s a 6 minute overview video with insights from my colleagues Terri McClure, Kevin Rhone, and Mark Bowker as well as me, and also discussions of the key takeaways that senior NetApp Executives (Tom Georgens, George Kurian, and Jullie Parrish) wanted to implant in the heads of the attendees and thence users and prospects.
So, in total, how did NetApp do? My intent here is not to get into the product details or even specific futures, but to try to dig into what the event meant in terms of a new line in the sand for the company. In terms of re-establishing some swagger, the answer is very good.
- The logic of it embracing the cloud – via integration - but not seeing it as a panacea is inescapable.
- Its focus on still producing top-notch “on-prem” solutions, themselves increasingly SAN (sic) and flash-boosted or -based, makes complete sense.
It does have an interesting marketing challenge ahead in balancing its at-times against-the-stream views with still wanting to be a very mainstream company. That said, it’s way better to have an opinion and to support it than to simply be along for the ride. So, while NetApp can be seen as “regular” in some areas (having multiple bets in flash, for instance), it is anything but regular in others (for instance, where cloud is not seen as a category but merely as a component within [software-defined] storage and data management). It also needs to finesse the balance of its pretty-arrow-straight ONTAP focus with a message that promotes pragmatic flexibility; the tool to achieving that finesse successfully is most likely its broad partnering (whether that means hypervisors or applications) DNA and record.
This was a more assertive, and occasionally even strident, NetApp. That’s something many of us have wanted to see for a long time. Today’s ONTAP is a long way from that of late last century – and that naming consistency is both a blessing and a curse for NetApp. Perhaps we are best to simply view ONTAP as an evolving kernel at the middle of NetApp’s radically changed view of data and IT, driving its massively enhanced functional ability and continued aspirations. And it is surrounded by a strong portfolio – services, E Series, FlexPod, and multiple iterations of flash and hybrid cloud. It all made for a [pleasantly surprising] compelling story, and was confidently delivered….NetApp staked its claims--in so doing I think it reinvigorated itself and also laid the foundations to ensure that the storage business stays as fascinating at the “big dogs” level as it is in the start-up arena.
Mark: So vendor event season continues. This week, my colleagues and I were with NetApp in sunny California, so as well as some comments from myself and my ESG colleagues. Before we get to that, I was lucky enough to get some time with Tom Georgens, Julie Parrish, George Kurian, to talk about things from the NetApp perspective. We asked all three of them the same questions. What would they want someone who wasn't lucky enough to be at this event to know about NetApp and then more generally, what's changing in the storage industry? What effect does that have on NetApp over the next few years?
Tom: I think we made a tremendous progress in the last year. We see a great ramp in clustered OnTap, we see a leadership position in all All-Flash, but I think we spent a lot of time this time talking about where we go from here. How do we basically integrate the cloud, operationalize it for the customers and integrate that within data ONTAP and create a seamless data management experience, whether it's on-premise computing or in the cloud?
Julie: I think NetApp is really out-innovating the rest of the market, whether you look at the startups or some of the more traditional vendors, and we're doing that by really focusing on what matters most to customers, which is data and how they store and manage that data.
George: NetApp is winning and gaining share in the market with a differentiated approach and the best portfolio of innovation in our history to solve the enterprise CIO's biggest and toughest problems. These include a differentiated vision for an already narrow road map for the hybrid cloud, the ability to deploy Flash technology in an optimal way to solve the business problems that you have need for and an approach to modernize your dedicated environments and simplify them, both with integrated stacks, as well as new storage architectures. We have an open approach to work on behalf of our customers with the technology ecosystem of their choice.
Julie: If you look at the combined strength of the product road map we have today, what we're already delivering, what's coming in the future are renewed positioning and our focus now on the enterprise and service provider. I think we're poised to capitalize on the momentum we already have.
Tom: You know, we spend a lot of time on the clustered ONTAP transition. That is our new architecture. That's our platform for the next decade of innovation. So you should expect to see an acceleration of innovation on that front. Obviously continuing innovation on the Flash side with the introduction of FlashRay this year and continuing on the manageability. And I think the big highlight of the story is how do we bring the hyperscaled cloud into the enterprise and make it possible for customers to realize the benefits.
George: We see two things. One is that continued evolution of storage systems architecture and technology capability as the lines between persistent memory and storage continue to blur, and the evolution of storage architectures to support the need for hybrid cloud solutions for our customers where we think the data management capabilities in storage become preeminent.
Julie: You know, for me, running marketing for NetApp the way I see things changing is the decision-making is changing. The people in the process of making the decision are changing. They're getting younger, which is not a bad thing. They're going to different places, and there's many, many more people involved in the actual purchase of storage because it's part of a much bigger solution. So the implication for NetApp, at least, from a marketing perspective, is what are we doing to make sure we've got the right online presence. What are we doing to make sure we understand all these unique personas and what kind of content they want, where they will go to get it, and how all that works together?
Terri: Every time I come here, I get reminded just how powerful data ONTAP is as a data management layer, and I really like the direction they're going with cloud ONTAP. I think it brings tremendous opportunity to the test and dev community that want to be able to just spin up an app in the cloud and emulate their on-prem environment. So I think that has a lot of potential, and I'm looking forward to seeing that roll out later this year. I wish I could share more with you about where they're going regarding things like object and mobile because they've got a really interesting road map there that I think their customers would really like. Unfortunately, I can't talk about the best stuff, but I will say keep your ears open because I think the rest of the year looks pretty good for NetApp.
Mark: We're here at the NetApp Analyst Event. The most interesting thing I saw is really around FlexPod. So last year, it was 2,300 customers. That's bumped up nearly double with over 4,000 customers on that FlexPod now. There's more designs than ever. And another thing that's interesting to hear from them, most of those designs or those CVDs are actually VMware-based, but more and more are becoming Microsoft or Hyper-V based, too. So as people evolve and look at private cloud, look at virtualization and taking it further, that certainly was part of NetApp's overall cloud enterprise message, which is really about bridging together on-premise, hyperscale and public cloud and that service provider cloud as well.
Kevin: Reporting in from NetApps analyst day, the message to partners here is pretty clear. If you invest, NetApp will invest with you. They're doubling down on their best partners and trying to get them to grow as fast as possible, and enable them to deliver as broad a range of services as they can.
Mark: So that's it from Sunnyvale for this year and the NetApp Analyst Summit. Obviously, we heard from three of the executives of the company, and you also heard from a group of the ESG analysts. Hope you found that interesting. I just want to close with this thought. This was a very different NetApp from that which we've seen in the last couple of years, maybe for some time, more assertive, more confident, certainly a lot of changes from the portfolio perspective, and as we heard, a lot more to come. So this was definitely one of those watch the future events.