NetApp’s Spot PC: a foundation for a new desktop paradigm?

NetApp may be on the right track with its modern take on a traditional thin client, the Spot PC. But it could see quicker success by partnering with another company.

Technology, future and touchscreen
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After I wrote about NetApp’s Spot PC last month, I had a surprisingly nice call with Spot PC’s general manager, Jeff Treuhaft. He reminded me that this is still a very young offering and, given that, it makes more sense to focus on the product, not the channel or the brand. So, while Treuhaft didn’t disagree with my thoughts, he suggested NetApp has a plan to deal with issues once the Spot PC has proven itself in a few initial deployments. 

Given that the plan isn’t yet in place and because of confidentiality about the move, Treuhaft couldn’t share more. So, I want to focus on what it could be and how it could transform the PC experience into something less aggravating and closer to what users say they want.

Currently NetApp sells Spot PC through an existing channel of managed service providers (MSPs).

Partnering or merging to create a new class of PC company

The world we live in is very different than it was even a few years ago. Rather than working in the office being the norm — and working from home the exception — we seem to be locking down on either a solid work-from-home model or a hybrid of work from home and office. Some of the reports I’m seeing from companies that demanded employees return to the office indicate that this forced march is resulting in unsustainable levels of resignations and that employees are migrating en masse to competitors who promote aggressive work-from-home policies.   

But work-from-home has significant support problems. You can’t cost effectively send out techs at scale and, given that support is also likely remote, you also can’t always assure that user problems are addressed timely. Thus, the focus must be on reducing the number of problems any user — particularly a remote user —must deal with.

The Cloud PC, which is the latest iteration of the Thin Client, would seem to be an ideal path; it tends to be more flexible (you can specify you just want an instance with more performance), more secure, and potentially less expensive, both initially and over time due to economies of scale.  Particularly for those at home, it’s better, faster, and cheaper than a traditional PC approach.

The issue, as I pointed out last month, is that NetApp isn’t known as a PC vendor. And until that lack of brand identity is corrected, it will massively reduce NetApp’s potential in the market.

But what if NetApp partnered or merged with another company to address these problems? And who would it partner with?

Lenovo and Cisco for the win?

NetApp has two long-term strategic partners who could address the problems associated with brand issues and Spot PC. Both Lenovo and Cisco (disclosure: both are clients) have capabilities that could flesh out Spot PC and make it far more capable than it is. Lenovo has what was the old IBM PC division, and IBM was dominant back in the days of terminals — which Spot PC, to some degree, emulates. Lenovo has a significant set of desktop management tools that could be pooled with this NetApp effort for an end-to-end deployment and support solution from a brand that is well regarded.

Cisco has what is arguably the most robust provisioning program for remote employees. It allows employees to go to a store like Best Buy and get the networking and collaboration tools they need in a complete, approved, and highly reliable package. Those tools could also be remotely configured and combined with Spot PC to create what is basically a plug-and-play Spot PC ecosystem. 

This would also lay a foundation for either an extended deeper partnership between the companies or a merger to create an entity that would rival the old IBM or the current Dell Technologies in size, scope and (given Lenovo’s significantly stronger presence in China) potential reach. 

While Treuhaft could not share a plan that does not yet exist for the next phase of Spot PC, I think a potential path to success would include bringing firms like Lenovo and Cisco on board. That would allow for the creation of an end-to-end Cloud PC solution that can be deployed effectively on-premise — and work particularly well for in-home offices while lowering support costs and increasing security.

If the companies have the will, we could see the emergence of either a new kind of deep partnership or a fascinating merger as the industry moves to reimagine the PC.   

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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