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NetApp's Georgens: Mulitprotocol storage hot, tiering not so

NetApp appears to be the big winner in storage sales at the end of 2009 as spending picked up after a slow year. NetApp Wednesday reported $1.01 billion in revenue for last quarter. Its product revenue increased 17% over the last year, while larger rivals EMC and Hewlett-Packard had year-over-year declines in storage product revenues.

NetApp’s increases are more impressive when you consider its last quarter included January, which means one-third of the quarter came after companies flushed their 2009 budgets.

NetApp execs say low-end systems had the biggest increase, which likely reflects a surge in organizations turning to networked storage as a result of adding virtualized servers. NetApp also sold its largest mix of multiprotocol storage systems ever. In fact, for the first time it sold more systems with SAN and NAS protocols than NAS alone. Multiprotocol systems rose from 34% the previous quarter to 42% while NAS-only systems fell from 48% to 42% and SAN-only systems dropped from 19% to 15%.

NetApp CEO Tom Georgens says that’s likely a sign that organizations want more flexibility to run multiple applications on a system.

“As customers seek to build an infrastructure that can run multiple applications, typically those applications have the need for multiple access methods, both file and block,” he said. “As a result, as we see more of this virtualized shared infrastructure rollout, I see more and more customers that are interested in products that can run both at the same time. The other thing is, it gives them an option that if it’s NAS today, it could be SAN tomorrow or vice versa. … I think single-protocol products are going to become obsolete over time.”

Interestingly, there was no mention on NetApp’s earnings call of any impact from its scale-out NAS clustering capability. Last year at this time, NetApp frequently talked about how its integration of its GX clustered technology with its Ontap operating system was coming soon, and it finally began shipping a converged OS with Ontap 8 last August. Yet lack of a fully integrated scale-out NAS product hasn’t hurt it. Maybe the market for scale-out NAS is overrated – either NetApp customers don’t care about it or are willing to wait.

Georgens maintains automated tiering is definitely overrated, although it’s being hailed as another “must-have” offering within a year or so due to the rise of Flash solid state drives (SSDs) in enterprise storage. NetApp’s smaller competitor Compellent has been trumpeting its Data Progression software while EMC is pushing its burgeoning Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) technology. Georgens downplayed tiering when asked about FAST. He also downplayed FAST.

“FAST is a collection of things, not a specific capability,” he said. “FAST on Symmetrix is different from what FAST is on a Clarion and different from what FAST is on Celerra and different from what FAST is on Atmos. FAST an umbrella name for a bunch of point technologies that are different on every platform. But whatever NetApp does, it’s going to be consistent across all SAN and NAS, high-end and low-end.

“Second of all, I think the entire concept of tiering is dying. The simple fact of the matter is, tiering is a way to manage migration of data between Fiber Channel-based system and SATA-based systems. With the advent of Flash, basically these systems are going to go to large amounts of Flash, and that will be dynamic with SATA behind them, and the whole concept of have tiered storage is going to go away.”

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