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NetApp under attack at SNW

Pixar and MySpace tout Ibrix and Isilon over outmoded NAS products from NetApp, while Microsoft hints at plans to take on the company in the enterprise.

From the opening keynote at Storage Networking World (SNW) in San Diego this week, Network Appliance Inc. (NetApp) took a visible whipping from both its customers and competitors. Unfortunately, its reaction was typical of a large, entrenched player. Like a small child with its hands covering its ears, NetApp did its best to ignore the unwelcome news.

A press release issued by the company at the start of the show announced, "Network Appliance drives industry discussions at Storage Networking World." That was definitely true, only the discussions seemed to be mainly about users replacing NetApp with newer technologies, rather than embracing the company.

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The onslaught began with keynote speaker Greg Brandeau, vice president of technology at Pixar Animation Studios, a marquee account for NetApp at the high end. The animation giant has shifted its storage strategy to incorporate new technology from file system startup Ibrix Inc., where NetApp filers were not up to the job.

Previously, the company had fed data to its animators and technical directors working on images through a NetApp FAS 960 filer. This powerful system had handled the load of even its most recent film, Monsters, Inc. but proved overmatched by its latest movie Cars.

Next on stage, social networking Web site representatives from talked about its use of Isilon System Inc.'s clustered storage system. A high-tech media company with gargantuan amounts of file storage, MySpace would once have looked no further than NetApp to satisfy its needs.

Both these users send a strong signal that NetApp is losing ground at the high end, and among its traditional customer base. NetApp's answer to clustered file systems from company's like Isilon and Ibrix is the technology it picked up through the Spinnaker Networks Inc. acquisition three years ago. However, it's only just announced that the new operating system, dubbed Ontap GX, has been installed at several customer sites and will be generally available "some time in the future." It's hard to blame customers for looking elsewhere.

Gabriel Broner, General Manager of the storage division at Microsoft, spared NetApp no mercy, either. During his presentation in the main ballroom, he hinted at Microsoft's plans for attacking the enterprise NAS market in the next upgrade to Windows Storage Server R2. Nobody thinks Microsoft will hurt NetApp at the high end, but any plans that NetApp has for addressing small and mid-sized businesses are surely a dead duck once Microsoft gets its act together.

And to add insult to injury, hanging out at the press room was Jerry Lopatin, formerly senior vice president of engineering at NetApp and now head of engineering and operations at NAS gateway upstart OnStor Inc. He declined to comment on why he left NetApp, saying only that, "It was the right time to leave."

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