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NetApp’s Kurian ‘not constrained’ from making changes … or not making them

New NetApp CEO George Kurian today said he has a free hand to make any changes he believes are necessary at the company while giving no indication that any sweeping changes are coming.

Kurian, who replaced Tom Georgens as CEO on June 1, discussed his vision for the company during a webcast hosted by UBS IT hardware analyst Steve Milunovich. Customers, partners and investors looking for the company to go in a new direction will likely be disappointed by Kurian’s insistence that he is looking to execute on the plan put in place before his promotion to CEO.

Although new chairman Mike Nevens said there is a CEO search underway, Kurian is not listed as an interim CEO and he said he is free to make the moves he wants.

“I am operating as CEO of the company and I do not feel constrained in any manner as far as making changes to necessitate success,” he said.

NetApp revenue has declined for the past two years and the company forecasts little or no growth this year. But if Kurian plans any changes, he kept them to himself today while taking questions from Milunovich and others on the call. He said NetApp will continue to embrace hybrid clouds, Data OnTap storage software and three all-flash array platforms.

When asked why the CEO change was made and what he will do different than Georgens, Kurian said he would “translate the strategy we have into more vigorous execution.”

Kurian played down suggestions from several questioners that NetApp is too focused on its core Data OnTap software, and that it needed to diversity its products. He said the vendor has moved into hybrid cloud storage, cloud backup, all-flash arrays, object storage and hyper-convergence (through a partnership with VMware) in recent years. He added that he doesn’t think NetApp needs to add more products through acquisitions.

He said it was not new to have competition from smaller companies such as Nutanix, Pure Storage and Nimble Storage competing with NetApp as well as large rivals such as EMC and Hewlett-Packard. “We’ve had multiple competitors before. We always worry about competition and how to differentiate ourselves,” he said.

Kurian also proclaimed NetApp the leader in software-defined storage, but said that does not mean it will be releasing software-only versions of its main storage platforms. “The value of software-defined storage is as a consistent way to manage data across a diverse set of hardware,” he said. “You can have the same data management landscape across extreme performance and extreme capacity configurations, remote offices and the hybrid cloud.”

Kurian was grilled on NetApp’s all-flash strategy, which includes all-SSD versions of its FAS enterprise and EF Series high performance computing arrays, and a built-from-the-ground up FlashRay platform that is not yet generally available. Kurian defended that strategy, although NetApp all-flash sales lag those of EMC’s XtremIO, Pure’s FlashArray and IBM’s Flash System.

“If you believe flash is transformative, it will be used in a broad range of use cases,” he said. “One of those is where people want mature data services, enterprise-grade resiliency and performance. OnTap allows customers to have no-compromise use cases. There will also always be customer that wants extreme performance and the fastest thing in the world. That’s the EF Series. For customers who want a few features but the full capability of a large data center system, that’s where we target FlashRay.”

Kurian was also asked about NetApp’s EVO: RAIL hyper-converged product that it will sell in partnership with VMware. He said hyper-convergence is “a carbon copy of all other parts of the virtualization landscape” and customers will want to seamlessly move workloads and have consistent data protection.

Kurian said he has worked with new Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins during his time at Cisco and during his four years at NetApp, and expects the FlexPod reference architecture partnership between the two vendors to remain strong.

As for what is probably NetApp’s most immediate product concern — customers struggling to upgrade to clustered Data OnTap from the vendor’s standard OnTap — Kurian said the early adopters of the clustered product have been new customers or those who only have one workload to migrate. NetApp’s IT team required months to complete its upgrade to clustered OnTap, but Kurian said that was because the storage migration was done along with other projects, including Microsoft Windows and SQL Server upgrades.