NetApp Holds Annual Conference Amidst Mandalay Bay Shooting

If NetApp handles its business as well as it handled Insight 2017 – held in the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas – NetApp will do just fine. The conference, held at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, went off without a hitch, and NetApp successfully communicated the message they have recently been more successful than many seem to think.

Responding to Horror

At 11:30 PM on Sunday, October 1st, NetApp management communicated to all registrants of Insight 2017 there was an active shooter and that participants should stay away from the Mandalay Bay or shelter in place if already there. NetApp continued its participant communications as the situation developed. The emails were timely, compassionate, thoughtful, and helpful.

At 5:00 AM the next morning, the level of carnage was apparent, and Las Vegas first responders – who have received unanimous praise for their incredible response – were still processing victims. Insight registrants received a second email from NetApp that the hotel and conference center were still on lockdown, and the company was “unsure how this will impact conference activities today.”

The NetApp communications team told us they would be in touch when they knew more information about the show. The team let those of us still traveling to Las Vegas know the airport was open, but the company also understood “if recent events impact your decision to attend the conference.” This was the right thing to say at that time, as it put the mental welfare of the show’s attendees above any business goals for the show.

We were told later they were canceling any Monday events, but that the show would start on time the next morning. We were again assured NetApp would understand if we chose not to come. As someone who has put on events, I can personally attest how hard it must have been for them to do that. Event organizers never want to give attendees a reason not to come. But again, in my opinion it was the right thing to do.

NetApp CEO George Kurian said in his opening address Tuesday morning the NetApp team had met with law enforcement, the hotel staff, and others to decide whether or not to move forward with the conference or cancel it. They were ensured by all that the venue was ready to execute, and that security would be beefed up as well. The 4,000 or so of us that were there obviously agreed. As sad as what happened was, our belief was to not let this horrible act stop us from doing what we came to do.

NetApp Insight – Doing What We Came To Do

The overarching theme of the first day was that data has moved from being important to being essential, and NetApp is prepared to morph itself into more of a data management company instead of a storage management one. It was not easily apparent what services NetApp is now doing or will soon be doing that qualify solely as data management (vs. storage management), but the message was clear that NetApp understood there is a difference.

The second day of the conference offered more detail, much of which was under NDA. One of the first presenters was the CFO, who gave a report of the company’s financial performance. He displayed a chart that showed declining revenue over the past five years, and a 50% drop in NetApp’s stock price that ended in 2016. Then he showed increases in revenue over the last few quarters, and – more importantly – significant gains in margin. These changes seemed to be directly responsible for a rebound of NetApp’s stock price back to the number it was before the drop. He also showed gains in the all-flash market. It is clear that NetApp is currently on the rise in many numbers that matter.

Introducing QStack

The most interesting product presentation was about Qstack, a cloud application workload automation program from GreenQloud – now a NetApp company. GreenQloud touts it is an energy-saving way to use cloud infrastructure. Since a lot of NDA information was presented on this topic, comments here will be limited to public statements already on the qstack.com website. Qstack offers a unified user interface that allows companies to “manage their entire data center portfolio – including multiple public and private clouds located in different geo-zones – all directly from the same self-service portal.” Qstack also supports live migration between hypervisor hosts and environments, including migration between data center infrastructure and public cloud infrastructure.

What’s interesting about this particular product is it was not designed from a NetApp-centric point of view, and NetApp wants it to stay that way. GreenQloud is in Iceland and NetApp plans to continue to operate it as a separate company. NetApp demonstrated several pieces of current and upcoming functionality, and it looks like it could be a very interesting part of the portfolio. NetApp mentioned NetApp Cloud Control, which backs up Office365 environments. Also announced was NetApp HCI, based on SolidFire. NetApp also mentioned that for the first time customers can replicate from an OnTap system to a SolidFire All-flash array or HCI system using SnapMirror.

StorageSwiss Take

Gone are the days when every answer NetApp gave to every customer problem was Data OnTap. This was no more true than when they acquired Spinnaker, which could have easily added clustered NAS to their portfolio from day one. Instead, they spent at least 10 years integrating into OnTap. Contrast that to today, where NetApp offers an all-flash array that has nothing to do with OnTap, an HCI product based on that array, replication to/from that array to make it fit into a NetApp shop, backup of Office365, and even a cloud orchestration product that sees OnTap as only one arrow in its customers’ quivers. The change in attitude and additional products seemed to have turned the company around financially. Time will tell if this is a temporary blip, or the creation of a much stronger, data centric company.

W. Curtis Preston (aka Mr. Backup) is an expert in backup & recovery systems; a space he has been working in since 1993. He has written three books on the subject, Backup & Recovery, Using SANs and NAS, and Unix Backup & Recovery. Mr. Preston is a writer and has spoken at hundreds of seminars and conferences around the world. Preston’s mission is to arm today’s IT managers with truly unbiased information about today’s storage industry and its products.

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