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Goldman Sachs: Interest in NetApp SAN products wanes

A survey by the investment firm shows enterprise storage buyers had a declining interest in NetApp SAN products over the last year.

Network Appliance Inc.'s (NetApp) momentum in the storage area network (SAN) space may be waning, according to the results of a recent survey of 100 IT executives from Fortune 1000 companies by Wall Street investment firm The Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The results of the survey showed a decrease of respondents saying they planned to evaluate NetApp SAN products in Feb. 2007 as opposed to Aug. 2006, when 18% of respondents said they were "currently evaluating NetApp's SAN products but have not yet decided if I will move forward with the purchase," compared with 11% in the most recent survey. The decrease does not mean a commensurate boost in the number of respondents answering that they were already using or planning to purchase a NetApp SAN in the next 12 months; the number of respondents answering they were already using NetApp SANs rose from 9% to 11%, and those planning purchases increased from 3% to 5%.

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More strikingly, the number of respondents between the two surveys reporting that they "currently use NetApp only for network attached storage (NAS) environment and do not plan on purchasing their products for use in a SAN environment" rose from 2% to 13%, while the number of respondents indicating they "do not use NetApp, and I have no plans on using their products in SAN installations," ticked up from 42% to 43%.

"It appears that NetApp's move into the SAN market is meeting some resistance despite its dominant position in NAS," the report's analysis of the numbers reads. "On the plus side, just over 40% of the respondents that are candidates for NetApp's SAN offerings have purchased or are planning on purchasing these products, up slightly from our August 2006 survey. However, the biggest shift between these two surveys is a steep decline in the number of respondents that are currently evaluating NetApp's SAN offerings and a corresponding increase in current customers that are only planning on using its NAS products and have no plans to even evaluate its SAN lineup."

Meanwhile, the report stated, "IBM and EMC remain the decisive winners for the second straight survey. For IBM, its rise to the top position [within the results] highlights the company's relative strength in midrange storage and tape, and is probably increasingly a reflection of IBM's partnership with Network Appliance as well. EMC, coming off a strong December quarter and with its wide-ranging lineup of storage hardware, software and services, has moved back firmly into the share-gainer category … [while] Network Appliance was neutral in this survey."

"It is hard to comment on this research since I have no insight to their methodology," wrote Enterprise Strategy Group analyst Tony Asaro in an email to "However, since the survey participants are 100 managers (a small sample set) of Fortune 1000 companies, this makes sense -- it is harder for NetApp to unseat Fibre Channel incumbents within these type of companies. That is why NetApp partnered with IBM."

Asaro said the results don't match with what he's heard from users. "NetApp is winning lots of SAN deals," he said.

However, he added, "This report does call out a big challenge for NetApp. Within large enterprise companies, NetApp is not strongly associated for SAN solutions … IBM can help, but the relationship with them is not a panacea … they have a long way to go to change this and it will take time."

A spokesperson for NetApp declined comment, saying the company is barred by U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations from commenting on financial analyst reports.

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