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NetApp: 'We're not interested in going EMC's route'

Dave Hitz, founder of NetApp, talks about the migration to SpinOS, Centera vs. SnapLock and why it has no plans to start acquiring nonstorage companies.

Network Appliance Inc. has a challenging couple of years ahead. There's the migration to SpinOS, the company's new distributed operating system, maintaining a lead in iSCSI as everyone else joins in, fighting tough competition in compliance and the ongoing battle with EMC, to name just a few. Dave Hitz, founder and executive vice president of Network Appliance, or NetApp, sat down with to talk about how the company plans to tackle these issues.

SearchStorage: EMC is building a powerful software business through acquisitions. Will NetApp go down the same path of moving into adjacent markets to continue to grow the company?

Hitz: EMC is putting together something that is very different to a storage company. VMware is by far the most interesting of their acquisitions and gets them into the realm of a systems company ... VMware makes the systems guys, like IBM, very nervous as it places an abstraction layer between the OS and the underlying hardware so that multiple operating systems can run on the same server. So there are plenty of sparks flying between those two. It's a reasonable strategy for EMC. They are the No. 1 storage company but still have to grow.

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We're small enough that we can double our revenues in storage and remain a focused vendor. We're not interested at all in going EMC's route. Our growth rate in storage is roughly double EMC's ... In the long run, we would love to be No. 1 in storage and then move into new areas. But because we are small, we can stay focused and innovate faster.

SearchStorage: The first version of the combined OnTap and SpinOS operating system is scheduled for release by the end of the year. How confident are you that you can make that date?

Hitz: Very confident.

SearchStorage: How do you plan to migrate your customers to the new OS?

Hitz: It will happen at their own pace, and we'll manage it application by application and industry by industry. The first users will be in high-performance computing, where scalability is causing real pain. Then we predict the software development market, and the oil and gas companies. The enterprise guys are so far behind, there's nothing to drive us away from OnTap for a few years ... the enterprise guys can stay on this for a while.

SearchStorage: There is a real possibility you will lose customers in this transition. The DOS to Windows transition was successful, but DOS to OS/2, for example, was extremely difficult and did not succeed. How are you going to help customers with this transition?

Hitz: We prefer the analogy of Windows to Windows NT. It's more appropriate as the functionality is similar between the two -- it's just better. Bill Gates did a clever thing. He said that people would have to run them both in parallel and could migrate over when they were ready. Scott McNealy did the opposite and really screwed up. Sun said, as of this moment, we will only support Solaris on new platforms [and that] the older SunOS would no longer be supported. Well, the customer base screamed bloody murder. Sun did a bad job, and we're not going to copy that model. Windows did a good job, and that's the model we will copy.

SearchStorage: The first version of the software will not support all NetApp's software. What will be supported in the first iteration?

Hitz: The first generation will be a combination of SpinOS with WAFL with support for RAID sets, SnapMirroring, SnapVaulting …Not everything is going to be compatible in that first release like with NT, but wait, in time it will be.

SearchStorage: Can you talk about the difference between your approach to compliance data with the SnapLock product and EMC's Centera?

Hitz: If the SEC comes knocking on your door, with NetApp you simply purchase a SnapLock license and use space on your existing systems to lock down the data. With EMC, you are purchasing another different operating system that you have to learn and manage separately. Also Centera uses crypto-hash algorithms and these are being cracked. Sha-1 has just been hacked, and the whole point of this endeavor is to prove that your data is safe, so why would you knowingly deploy a system that could even theoretically be broken into? It's possible to work around it, but Centera is a whole new way to work with storage while the way to access SnapLock is very easy.

SearchStorage: The single instance storage feature in Centera is compelling though because it's a money saver. It's hard to argue with that.

Hitz: Saving money is always of interest, but the amount of compliance data is relatively small compared to the overall growth of data. The real question is how big of a hammer do you need to solve this problem? NASA for example, spent millions of dollars developing an "astronaut pen" that would work in outer space while the Soviets solved the same problem by simply using pencils.

SearchStorage: Does the SEC favor one approach over another?

Hitz: The government won't certify vendors as being compliant. You work with the customer and the SEC. Once you submit that the customer is compliant, you wait 90 days and if the SEC doesn't reply, that's a presumed OK. Both EMC and NetApp have customers that have passed that date.

SearchStorage: How are your Fibre Channel (FC) and IP SAN businesses going?

Hitz: I'll say this: SANs are not going away any time soon. The story of FC is going to be the story of mainframes. For years people have been predicting the death of the mainframe, but the mainframe market is still growing -- even if it's not growing very fast. FC is the same way. The Fortune 1000, they all have their FC SANs, and they're not getting rid of them.

ISCSI is FC for the rest of us. I see a lot of people moving to iSCSI directly from DAS -- skipping the FC phase. It's kind of like in emerging economies, how they skip over the landline phase and go directly to cell phones.

SearchStorage: Has Microsoft recertifying Exchange on NAS been a problem for you?

Hitz: That whole thing was confusing to me. [Ed. note: Microsoft has waffled with its support for Exchange on NAS. Currently, it supports it on Windows-powered NAS platforms.] What we've found though, is that CIFS isn't great for database apps. But if you want to run Exchange or SQL Server, iSCSI is going to work great.

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