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NetApp CEO: We invented software-defined storage

Software-defined storage is gaining a lot of attention these days, especially after EMC revealed plans for ViPR at EMC World earlier this month. Now EMC rival NetApp is taking credit for being a “pioneer” of the technology long before anybody from EMC or any other storage vendor used the team.

During NetApp’s earnings call with analysts Tuesday, CEO Tom Georgens cited the storage virtualization capability of the Data Ontap operating system as a prime example of software-defined storage. NetApp V-Series gateways can virtualize storage arrays from other major vendors.

“NetApp pioneered this value proposition with our Data OnTap operating system,” Georgens said. “For the last decade, we’ve been able to run OnTap on our hardware and other people’s hardware through V-Series.”

Georgens listed the ability to run OnTap in private clouds with Amazon Web Services and as a virtual machine in OnTap Edge as other examples of software-defined storage.

“This concept has been coined software-defined storage … only NetApp can deliver on the promise of software-defined storage today,” he said.

NetApp representatives have been making similar claims since EMC announced its ViPR software-defined storage offering at EMC World earlier this month. Because the definition of software-defined storage varies according to who’s defining it, Georgens offered his definition: flexible storage resources that can be deployed on a wide range of hardware and provisioned and consumed based on policy directly by the application and development teams.”

Clustered OnTap, more than a decade in development after NetApp acquired clustered technology from Spinnaker, is part of NetApp’s software-defined storage story. Georgens said NetApp has almost 1,000 clustered customers.

Georgens also proclaimed NetApp a flash leader. He said NetApp has shipped 44 petabytes of flash in its arrays. However, its FlashRay all-flash array remains a roadmap item while others have had all-flash systems on the market for at least a year.

NetApp has two convince two sets of people that it is a technology innovator – customers and investors.

As cutomers go, NetApp’s revenue of $1.72 billion last quarter increased one percent from the same quarter last year and five percent over the previous quarter. That’s not bad, considering several large competitors said their sales slipped from last year, but not exactly a home run.

NetApp has struggled to keep investors happy. To make amends, NetApp announced a 900-person layoff, a quarterly dividend of 15 cents a share and a $1.6 billion increase in its stock repurchase program that brings the total to $3 billion. The moves came after a Bloomberg story claimed Elliott Management Corp. – which owns 16 million NetApp shares – called for NetApp to changes its board and take steps to boost shareholder value. One of Elliott’s concerns was that NetApp’s technology hasn’t kept up with its rivals.

That puts Georgens in the position of announcing layoffs while pledging to be a tech leader.

“Last week was a difficult one for employees,” he said of the layoffs. “We are faced with the challenge of continuing to execute against our growth strategy while achieving our business and financial objectives in the context of a low-growth IT spending environment.”

His juggling act will be interesting to watch in the coming months.

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