The rumors around a potential NetApp/Solidfire deal seem to be heating up. My research leads me to believe there are some conversations between the two companies. CRN suggests that NetApp is interested in acquiring SolidFire for over a billion dollars. If this deal were to come to fruition, could NetApp make it work? There are a lot of negatives, after all NetApp does not have a fantastic track record when it comes to buying companies.
NetApp is in an awkward place in the market. The unstructured data market is moving to scale-out NAS like Qumulo and Intermodal Data or object storage software solutions running on commodity hardware like Cloudian, Cleversafe, and others. Application and VM storage infrastructures are moving to solutions from legacy vendors like HPE’s 3PAR or EMC’s XtremIO or startups like NexGen, Nimble, Pure Storage, Tegile, and TinTri. The NetApp FAS family is stuck somewhere in the middle; too expensive for massive unstructured data, overkill for home directories and performance inefficiency. The FAS family can do the job but is it, by today’s standards, the best way to get there?
Apparently NetApp may not think so, hence the explanation behind the SolidFire rumors. If true, NetApp should go through with the purchase. SolidFire is one of the better differentiated all-flash arrays with features like scale-out and quality of service. It also can send snapshot data to object storage that could breathe new life into NetApp’s StorageGrid solution.
Making it work
The hard part is making a NetApp/Solidfire deal work. NetApp would have to divest itself, finally, of its “everything serves at the pleasure of On-Tap” mentality. That attitude is responsible for NetApp’s poor acquisition track record.
NetApp should swallow hard, move the SolidFire software to its E-Series hardware, then stop selling the FAS hardware family. The new SolidFire/E-Series solution should become its primary storage solution and the centerpiece of the portfolio. The FAS software solution, known as Data OnTap Edge, should be re-tooled to focus just on active data file sharing. The new SolidFire solution should also integrate with StorageGrid, which can become a backup repository as well as NetApp’s primary storage solution for non-active unstructured data complementing the re-tooled Edge solution. Finally, NetApp should end its policy of overcharging for out of warranty maintenance. The SolidFire and StorageGrid solutions are designed for 10-plus years of service the maintenance contracts should match that reality.
With the possible exception of AltaVault, NetApp should remove the rest of the product offering from the portfolio. Removing a product from a portfolio does not mean that NetApp has to call customers and tell them to unplug their gear. It means that it will focus on a significantly streamlined portfolio for new projects. Support for the non-portfolio solutions will continue as long as NetApp deems necessary. Current customers should have no pressure to upgrade or migrate.
Will NetApp take this aggressive of a move post acquisition? Probably not, but if it did, the result would be a lean, mean NetApp. Its salespeople would have the advantage of focus and knowing what they should do each morning when they wake up. Its field engineers could become experts and know this simplified offering inside and out. NetApp and SolidFire should be able to make this transition faster than the Dell-EMC transition, which would position the new NetApp for early success after the acquisition while Dell-EMC is still fumbling through its own product consolidation as we discuss in our entry “Dell Buys EMC – Can 2+2=6?”.