NetApp's new CEO talks about hybrid cloud, customer challenges

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George, you work with cloud companies like Amazon and you're making it easier for customers work with those cloud providers. Is that, in essence, aiding and abetting the enemy?

It depends on your perspective on the cloud provider and your perspective on customers. NetApp has [always had] the perspective that if we help our customers succeed they will do more business with us. Storage efficiency was perhaps the innovation we introduced that was most aligned with that perspective. Many people, when we introduced storage efficiency, said: You are essentially asking us to buy less storage from you. Our perspective was that over a period of time that would allow us to gain market share and to have customer wins because we were keeping our customers' best interests in mind.

So it is with the public cloud. Many cloud service providers built clouds on top of our technology -- 275 of the world's biggest cloud service providers, including people like IBM and Verizon Terremark and others. But we also realize that customers want to be able to take advantage of the hyperscale of clouds. Amazon is a platform on top of which we can innovate and we're extending our data management capabilities to be one of the innovations. This is enabling us to have wins against the competition.

You mentioned your discussion with Joe Tucci. Recently, using a combination of our data management technologies, Cisco's unified computing environment and the idea of a data fabric that combines hyper-scale environments, we were able to displace our competitors at an account that did not want to be locked in to a particular provider's on-premises technology and the same provider's cloud service. When we allow customers to succeed, they will return that investment to us. Tha'’s the perspective we’re taking on the public cloud.

How is NetApp doing selling into cloud providers versus your competitors?

We’ve made good progress with our clustered Data ONTAP storage systems as well as with the E-Series platforms into cloud service providers, both for traditional cloud environments as well as for newer applications like video surveillance-as-a-service or security-as-a-service and analytics-as-a-service use cases.

Clustered ONTAP very simply is the only enterprise operating system for storage and data management that is architected with the concept of clouds in mind. We enable for storage and data management what VMware enables for computing, which is that you can pool resources, whether they are flash, disk, in archive environments, whether they are storage systems from NetApp, EMC, Hitachi and others into a single resource pool. You can containerize that resource pool into tenants called storage virtual machines and you can apply security, protection policies, just as VMware does for virtual machines.

We think we’ve got the leading architecture for private and service provider clouds. We’ve had success with the E-Series complementing our ONTAP FAS systems for new applications and we are early in the journey around our technology called AltaVault that enables cloud integrated backup so customers can keep a portion of their backup environment on premises and archive the old data into a cloud service. We've got a series of cloud service providers that we're working with on the AltaVault capability as well.

Would you ever offer your own cloud storage service to customers?

We are focused on working with the experts in the industry at delivering cloud services to customers. We've got a rich partner ecosystem that can offer the full range of cloud services, whether it's colocation environments, managed environments, 'as-a-service' environments or public clouds. There are many, many experts in the industry that can offer those capabilities to customers and we're working closely with them.

There's also a lot of conversation going on around EMC with talk about whether the company should be sold, the company should break up its ecosystem to get more value out of it, etc. How can NetApp take advantage of all this discussion and uncertainty that’s surrounding EMC today?

It's a representation of the changing IT landscape and the challenges that traditional technology providers face. Our perspective is twofold. First, we're focused on doing what we do really well and customers can have our assurance that we're not going to get defocused from that mission and charter. The second is that we will continue to partner with complementary technology providers so customers can get maximum benefit. For example, VMware is a company that has been mostly owned by EMC for a long time and, as I mentioned earlier in the dialog, we have more than 50,000 joint customers with VMware. That's an example of our great partnerships. We will continue to do that with both VMware as well as the emerging technology landscape.

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted prior to the announcement that Dell will acquire EMC. After that news emerged we asked for comment from Kurian regarding the deal. NetApp declined that opportunity, but released the following statement:

"From a competitive standpoint, this merger doesn't solve the fundamental issues for EMC's storage business. EMC doesn't have an architecture that suits the hybrid cloud future and merging with Dell does not change this. NetApp's clustered Data ONTAP is designed for the cloud era and is the perfect platform because it spans across flash, disk and cloud in a single platform. It's the foundation for our Data Fabric vision, which is resonating strongly with customers and partners. This announcement does not fundamentally change the competitive landscape and the confusion it will generate is a share gain opportunity for NetApp."

NetApp has been less acquisitive than some other companies in your space. Is that something that will change under you? Do you see acquisitions playing a bigger role in the strategy?

We are constantly evaluating our own portfolio relative to what the market expects from NetApp. We run a disciplined review of the M&A landscape and we evaluate candidates based on strategic capability augmentation, cultural fit and financial viability. What we've been focused on over the last few years has been to derive success from the companies that we [already] acquired. Our growth rates with the E-Series portfolio as well as our OnCommand Insight products have been very strong.

We've had to change our go-to-market models to build specialist capability to ensure success of these acquired technologies, as well as to educate our partners so they are aware of the full portfolio of capabilities. But we're encouraged by progress in terms of the aggregate numbers as well as the percentage of our customers who buy multiple products -- whether those are organically developed or inorganically acquired. In the cloud space, we've acquired a backup to the cloud capability called AltaVault that's another area of focus for us.

What I'll summarize by saying is if we think that this adds capability to our portfolio and offers a compelling value proposition that we can deliver to customers and does not defocus us from the task at hand to maximize results from the portfolio that we already have, then obviously we will proceed with doing that.

One last question. What’s ahead? What are customers likely to see from NetApp in the next year?

What you will see from us is continued focus on execution and delivery against our vision for the hybrid cloud as the architecture for the next decade of IT. We've got compelling technology, good partnerships and a strong value proposition for customers as we plan the roadmap for the IT architecture of the next decade. You will see me accelerate progress against our emerging portfolio as well as drive efficiency through execution, inspection and making sure that we are aligned as a company to execute against our biggest priorities.

To all of the customers that have been partners of NetApp for the last 20 years, I want to say thank you. And to all of those that are interested in working with us, I look forward to working with you. The next decade of NetApp is going to be the best chapter in the company's history. Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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