Who is NetApp?

Storage Vendor? Cloud Vendor? Or Both?

At Cloud Field Day 9 Netapp presented some of its cloud solutions. This comes on the heels of NetApp Insight, the annual corporate event that should give its user base not just new products but also a general overview of the company strategy for the future. NetApp presented a lot of interesting news and projects around multi-cloud data and system management.

The Transition to Data Fabric

This is not the first time that NetApp radically changed its strategy. Do you remember when NetApp was the boring ONTAP-only company? Not that there is anything wrong with ONTAP of course (the storage OS originally designed by NetApp is still at the core of many of its storage appliances). It just can’t be the solution for everything, even if it does work pretty well.

When ONTAP was the only answer to every question (even with StorageGrid and EF systems already part of the portfolio), the company started to look boring and, honestly, not very credible.

The day the Data Fabric vision was announced, I was still skeptical, but this was a huge change for this company, and if they could pull it off I would be really impressed. The company started to develop products like StorageGrid, bought companies like Solidifre, integrated the different product families to make everything work together, and added additional tools to simplify the life of their customers. In the end, ONTAP was no longer the answer to every question, and the company became cool again.

Cloud, Built On Top of Data Fabric

Don’t get me wrong, the vision around Data Fabric was already including the cloud but it was incomplete in some aspects. Data Fabric was developed before the success of Kubernetes, for example, and multi-cloud was still a very distant future. But still, it needed a sort of update.

Now, after Insight and CFD, I think this strategy update feels complete and NetApp is one of the most hybrid-savvy vendors in the market landscape. Projects Astra or even the new VDS (Virtual Desktop Service) use the foundation of Data Fabric, and then build on top of it.

This is not a storage vendor anymore, not a traditional one at least. it is diversifying and becoming a more credible player at the cloud table. It is also interesting that it is doing it in a way that is not in competition with cloud providers or their traditional partners. In fact, they are presenting themselves as an enabling foundation layer to move data seamlessly from on-premises to the cloud and then manage it consistently, with a similar user experience, across different cloud platforms. CSPs really like the first part of this, while the latter helps their partners find the same environment on which to operate their solutions. From the user perspective, NetApp gives them additional options, increasing their freedom of choice. A win-win-win scenario, one could say.

From the outside, NetApp is building a set of interesting solutions on top of a credible and consistent data management layer. From a certain point of view this strategy is similar to what you can get from VMware, with their stack now available on all clouds and additional solutions built on top of it (like the DRaaS coming from the acquisition of Datrium for example).

Closing the Circle

I don’t know if NetApp can still be classified as a traditional storage vendor. Yes, revenues coming from storage box sales are still the lion’s share of their income (so they are still “traditional” from one point of view), but the strategy shift is quite visible here and cloud revenues are becoming more relevant, quarter after quarter.

Most enterprises are changing the way they think about IT infrastructures, hybrid and multi-cloud strategies are now the norm with a dramatic impact on how budgets are allocated. Users want to be free and run their applications where business requires it, and a traditional storage vendor is not part of this conversation. It is important to note that from this point of view NetApp is not alone, I mentioned VMware earlier in this post but others like RedHat have similar strategies in my opinion. They all want to build an identical user experience no matter where you deploy your applications (and data).

Will NetApp be able to change again? Will it be a credible cloud vendor? Will they become a true hybrid cloud-storage vendor? I think they did very well with Data Fabric and they are on the right path to repeat themselves. Only time will tell of course, but comparing them with some of the other traditional storage vendors, you can say they are really well positioned to do very well.