How NetApp is Conquering the Cloud

It is interesting to see the changing of tides – especially those that have big implications. Several years ago I happened to be in a job and role where we got to talk about technology ecosystems. Sometimes they make a lot of sense – who is connected to who and why is pretty clear and simple to see. Other times, like the recent set of Oracle announcements, well it takes a lot more thought and head scratching to get there.

I’ve been chewing on how this applies to shifting of technology from IT buying hardware to subscribing to hardware as part of a service. For the major technology vendors this represents a significant shift. What happens if:

  • Internal users start using cloud storage for storing/sharing files (e.g., Dropbox)
  • IT begins formally shifting applications to the cloud (e.g., to MS Office365, Salesforce)
  • Development starts doing test/dev off-premises (e.g., AWS on-demand)

The net result would seem to be that storage growth in the data center would minimally slow depending on how much these applications represent of the total storage – which may actually mean that storage usage is reduced on premises. For IT this could be very good and may be bad. The good is that capital outlay may shrink and the data center will no longer have to worry about running out of physical space for more storage. The bad could be a higher risk profile because data now has to sit outside the firewall. The concern is there just may not be the same rigor applied to mitigating those risks by the service provider.

So with this shift how does a storage company continue to meet the needs of its customers? The obvious answer is to focus on the new opportunities – design the storage solutions for the new use cases and sell storage solutions to the new IT storage targets. Service providers would seem like one logical choice but not necessarily the only one. So let’s talk about how NetApp has found new ways to help their customers and has been winning in this new market.

I get to talk to hundreds of cloud vendors – and the companies cover the full gamut from backup to security to cloud service provider to channel partner. I’ve always been a nuts-and-bolts kind of guy and what is always interesting to me in these discussions are for them to share their architecture with me. I also love it when I see a real pattern of some sort. When I hear the same set of vendor names come up – that almost always gets to a deeper conversation. Why did they choose them? What about the alternatives? Is there a formal relationship? Etc.

So now for the patterns where I see NetApp making a name for itself in cloud computing:

  1. The AWS partnership – providing dedicated private storage that is direct connected to AWS. This allows a customer to put compute (EC2) on AWS and store the data on their own private storage via an AWS authorized colo facility. Giving the customer the cost savings plus the scalability of AWS while keeping the data on the customer's side of the firewall.
  2. CSP reference architectures – I’ve talked to a number of CSPs that have built out storage services based on a blueprint that includes NetApp. Companies like iLand Internet, Rackspace, and Navisite to just mention a couple. Being a viable target for data in these public clouds is an important way for NetApp to remain relevant in the cloud era and NetApp has made significant headway with dozens of service providers.
  3. Cloud OS Support – If we look at OpenStack, Citrix CloudPlatform, VMware vCloud, and Microsoft’s Windows Server 2012 all these platforms provide support for NetApp. What’s interesting is this is all types of storage - file, block, and object.
  4. Cloud Community – It is also important to note the work that NetApp has done to support OpenStack. NetApp is a Gold sponsor and contributes code and have some of the richest driver support. This allows OpenStack implementations to leverage the more advanced features of their arrays that don’t exist today in Swift or Cinder.
  5. Backup/DR for cloud – there are various companies leveraging NetApp as a target. We just chatted with one today -- BUMI – who uses NetApp as the data storage platform.
  6. Private Clouds – NetApp continues to be leveraged in enterprise data centers making the transition from a virtualized data center to a private cloud data center. With their key cloud ecosystem partners – Citrix, Cisco, Microsoft, Red Hat, and VMWare.
  7. Cloud Capabilities - NetApp’s continued investments in Clustered Data Ontap continue to shape it into the perfect data target for cloud initiatives – from the management layer down to the actual physical storage. This includes features like multi-tenancy, support for REST, as well as service automation, and policy-based services as well. Plus they’ve opted to design for failure with continuous operations built into the array as well.

All this adds up to a great approach for NetApp and more importantly for their customers. NetApp’s strategy enables their customers to make the transition to the cloud while allowing them to continue to enjoy the trust and capabilities they’ve come to appreciate for years. If you were looking for a silver bullet this definitely isn’t a big bang theory approach. Instead I see it as a way for NetApp to become an integral part of the cloud plumbing. This also allows the enterprise to focus on the more difficult challenges afforded by the disruption that cloud presents.

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure Networking Cloud Services & Orchestration