SolidFire's third Analyst Event was its first as a part of NetApp. The change of ownership was evident but not onerous. Yes, there was talk of ONTAP and the rest of NetApp's portfolio, but mainly the focus was the increasing opportunity for, investments in, and expectations of, the SolidFire platform; and that's the key word — NetApp sees it's new offering as a 'platform' rather than a 'tuck in'.
As such, it is of course intended to help NetApp meet its short-term market traction and revenue goals, while also being a part of the longer term vision. The latter was summarized by George Kurian, NetApp's CEO, as follows:
"When the history of NetApp is written it will have us as the best manager of customers' data. Period."
To expand on what SolidFire brings to that particular party, and what motivated NetApp's purchase, I made a short video at the event with my commentary surrounding interviews with Dave Wright and Joel Reich:
It is important to remember that what NetApp has purchased in SolidFire is something that is about way more than just flash. Indeed, one could argue that in the long term, the SolidFire software is not that much about flash per se. And that is no doubt why NetApp is leaving SolidFire somewhat to its own devices right now (but with meatier resources than were available before), while also seeing it as a key component in helping to build a bridge to the future.
In the video you will have seen my reference to a wedding and a honeymoon. The early phase of the marriage between these two bodies appears to be somewhat open... there's commitment and definite value from being together but each partner is also going to retain its own life for now!
Announcer: The following is an ESG On Location video.
Mark: Welcome to sunny Colorado. It makes a great change for me to be here in my home state and not have to travel to one of these events. This is the third SolidFire Analyst Day. For two of those Analyst Days, it was really snowy and cold, but the event got moved back a little this year, and so we're in sunny Colorado.
This, of course, is the first year that SolidFire has been a part of NetApp. That is a big change, and that's what we wanted to talk about at this event. While I was here, I sat down with two key people that I feel could tell that story and answer that question really succinctly and really well. The first was Dave Wright, obviously the ex-CEO of SolidFire, and now VP of the SolidFire Division within NetApp. And I asked him very simply, "What is it that SolidFire brings to the NetApp party?"
Dave: So SolidFire is really about bringing a new storage architecture to NetApp customers that delivers an entirely different level of storage agility. The simplicity of the scale out model, the ability to snap together 1U bricks and get a linear scalability of capacity and performance and scale out that environment in a matter of minutes, the ability to seamlessly integrate multiple generations of hardware in a single cluster, eliminate disruptive or forklift upgrades, all of these things are really transformative to enterprises that are trying to get more agile with their storage infrastructure.
You combine that with the capabilities that we have around multi-tenancy and guaranteed performance with quality of service and automation, and what you have is really a modern storage architecture designed to help customers with their next generation data center efforts. Whether that's VMware-based or OpenStack-based or container-based, SolidFire is really a platform that was born in the cloud, and delivering cloud agility to enterprises around the world.
Mark: I followed that up with a couple of minutes with Joel Reich, who's the EVP of Product Operations at NetApp, and asked him very simply, "Why did you buy the company?"
Joel: When we started looking at what was going on with our customers and with our sales last year of our other flash products, we became convinced that the folks who were sizing the flash market had really got it wrong, that the market was really growing much faster, and in fact was one of the highest growth markets in all of IT infrastructure. We decided that we needed another play. Now, we could have bought just about anyone, but in IT the buying centers are changing, and the way people are deciding to spend their money is really shifting to a new style of next generation data center.
When we looked at that space and the requirements that those customers had and the products that they were looking for, we went down our list of what those features were, SolidFire turned out to be a great match. So, on the technology side it was partially about flash, but more about getting access to parts of the market that we think are wide open and ready to grow.
Mark: So, as we wrap up the formal proceedings here at the Analyst Day for SolidFire, it's kind of interesting. You can see they're setting up for a party, it's actually for a wedding. And so two people are gonna transform their lives. We have these two companies, SolidFire and NetApp, that are also in the transformation business.
Now, it's a bit of the honeymoon phase for them right now, but to celebrate, if you like, the consummation, we had George Kurian come along, and he talked about the fact that NetApp is in the portfolio business these days.
It's not just the filer company anymore. So where does that put SolidFire in the picture? I think it has intrinsic value in terms of expanding that portfolio for NetApp, but it's also one of those key platform elements within NetApp's overall portfolio that could potentially, if this all goes according to plan, help NetApp bridge and transform to the future.