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NetApp CEO makes 'big bet' on data management with Cloud Ontap

NetApp leader Tom Georgens sees data management growing in importance thanks to the emergence of cloud, flash-enabled data centers and software-defined storage.

The advent of elastic hybrid cloud storage is reshaping NetApp Inc. from a pure-play storage hardware vendor to a data management specialist.

That was the message NetApp CEO Tom Georgens delivered to business partners and customers during a keynote address last week at the vendor's Insight North America conference in Las Vegas. Georgens said integrated data management tools are growing in importance thanks to the emergence of cloud computing, flash-enabled data centers and software-defined storage.

"We recognize the industry is in transition. Imperatives fall into two categories: balancing risk mitigation, and cost reduction against opportunities for global growth," Georgens told a crowd of approximately 3,000 attendees. "These issues have important implications for storage, but without effective data management, success is going to be hard to find for our customers. That's why we're making a big bet on data management."

He cited the rollout of Cloud Ontap as an example of NetApp's emphasis on data management. Cloud Ontap is a software-only version bundled in its clustered Data Ontap 8.3 operating system. It provides a common set of catalogs and processes for moving data between public clouds and on-premises storage. Cloud Ontap supports NetApp storage and technology from other storage array vendors.

"What if I could start an application in the cloud and move it back on-premises in the sweet spot of its life? Then, once it's proven and mature, put it back in the cloud as it becomes a legacy [application]. That's true application lifecycle management" that Cloud Ontap provides, Georgens said.

Georgens said NetApp has shipped "tens of thousands" of Ontap controllers since the first quarter, a year-over-year jump of 170%. NetApp also posted $3 billion from sales of its FlexPod reference architecture as additional platforms were validated in 2014, including Citrix XenDesktop 7.1, Citrix XenServer 6.2, Microsoft's Private Cloud FastTrack program and VMware vSphere 5.1.

"We certainly see the evolution of alternative approaches to [FlexPod] by our competition," Georgens said, a reference to the Virtual Computing Environment (VCE) coalition launched in 2009 by EMC, Cisco Systems and VMware. EMC announced last month it was buying out most of Cisco's share in VCE.

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Do you need integrated data management to adopt hybrid cloud storage?
The evolution of software being decoupled from HW+SW bundles is powerful and begins to allow enterprise-like features to be easily extended into the cloud. Having the same storage software in your data center and within a cloud service provider is one approach to "hybrid cloud" storage, but that's a limited approach and most customers are looking for many more options. What about being able to integrate with AWS, Azure, GCP, which all deliver commodity storage? What about the data that's created in SaaS applications like O365, Google Apps, SFDC, WebEx and others? There are many tiers of options that companies would like to take advantage of (beyond storage - cloud providers offer lots of functionality), from performance to cost to flexibility, and it's important for them to explore those options, not just be aligned to a single piece of storage software. 
This is one approach to data services in a hybrid cloud architecture, but it's limited to having the same software on both sides and what the Cloud SP will expose via APIs. It is good to see that the storage industry is moving to a decoupled model of HW+SW, as this offers much more flexibility of which clouds can be used. But this still doesn't cover clouds such as AWS, Azure, Google Compute, which build their own native software. It also doesn't cover data which resides in SaaS applications such as O365, SDFC, WebEx, Google Apps, etc. In general, I would expect that companies will seek more than just options that expose like-to-like storage software for IaaS. They also want choices in options that cross multiple clouds, and potentially lever other cloud services beyond storage.