Last month I attended Storage Field Day 9, which included a two-hour presentation at NetApp headquarters. My summary statement of what I learned from the briefing is that NetApp is pivoting. By that I mean that they seem to have finally decided that OnTap is not the answer to every problem. I wrote about this a little in my post about AltaVault and OnCommand Cloud Manager.
The main criticism of NetApp over the years was that they were a one-trick pony. Dave Hitz talks about this in his book, How to Castrate A Bull, which is his story of how NetApp was created and shaped over time. Calling them a one-trick pony is quite a stretch because their products do so many things beyond what the original NetApp filer was originally designed to do. But in the end, it still all came down to Data OnTap, their core operating system. Many argued that their complete reliance on Data OnTap is what caused them to take so long to leverage the IP they got from the Spinnaker acquisition. They could have had a clustered operating system so much sooner if they didn’t require it to be built on Data OnTap. But now, of course, they have Clustered Data OnTap, or cDOT.
But in the last year or so, they’ve made a few moves that signal that they realize that they must be all things to all people in order to be able to sell something to everybody. Their products must be cloud friendly and they must have a proper flash story to play in today’s marketplace.
For a long while, they were happy to sell you an all-flash array based on cDOT, but someone inside NetApp recognized the wisdom of an architecture that was built from the ground up to take advantage of flash — and they acquired SolidFire. Now they have a completely separate product that they can sell to those looking for an all-flash approach, and it appears they’re going to keep it that way.
The acquisition of SteelStore from RiverBed (now called AltaVault) is another interesting move. It closes a hole in their portfolio created when they discontinued the NearStore VTL product in 2008. They hoped to fill that hole with Data Domain in 2009, but that didn’t work out the way they planned.
While the AltaVault product does not have either the mindshare or market share that Data Domain has, it does come with some features that Data Domain does not have. Specifically, it can replicate its backups into over 15 public cloud providers, including Amazon S3 & Glacier, IBM Softlayer Object Storage, and Microsoft Azure. It can also replicate into several private cloud products, including NetApp StorageGrid, EMC Atmos, and OpenStack Swift.
They’ve also added the ability to accept replicated backups from cDOT, in addition to already being able to accept backups from several backup products. This means that they have a product that can accept backups from just about anything and replicate them into just about anything. Now they’re developing an orchestration product to manage the whole process, called OnCommand.
Time will tell how much of a pivot this is for NetApp. But it is interesting to see them taking two major steps toward the future: purpose-built flash storage and migrating data between clouds. And if the shipping version of OnCommand has half the features that they talked about, it will offer NetApp customers a number of options for moving data into different cloud providers.