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NetApp's CEO's survival strategy is more than paranoia

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A top-selling network-attached storage (NAS) vendor surrounded by a veritable sea of storage area network (SAN) proponents might have reason to get a little paranoid.

But, that doesn't have to be a bad thing.

Network Appliance (NetApp) CEO Daniel Warmenhoven told an audience of investors attending Tuesday night's keynote address at the Merrill Lynch Storage Conference that he mirrors Intel's Andrew Grove's philosophy detailed in his now classic book, "Only the Paranoid Survive." With the likes of EMC breathing down NetApp's back, who can blame him?

It's certainly not just paranoia that drives Warmenhoven, however. Indeed, his strategy and outlook on the market and its future takes on a much more proactive position. Warmenhoven isn't moving just because he thinks someone is behind him.

Warmenhoven, in fact, is preparing for a major storage sector restructuring--a change that could have a positive effect on NetApps growth. "It's the third wave of what's really been going on for the last 30 years," he said. Warmenhoven said storage architectures have shifted from being server-centric to storage-centric. The third wave of storage is now upon us, he said, which is a more network-centric architecture that favors NetApp.

Referencing Grove's book again, Warmenhoven pointed out that the market-dominating IT companies for IT infrastructure today really didn't emerge until they developed a horizontal focus that allowed them to be used across all main hardware platforms. This is another area where he sees Network Appliance coming out ahead.

According to Warmenhoven, this wave began with the development of the processor and the horizontal focus of Intel and Motorola. Adding to the rise of the horizontally positioned IT leader over the years, he said, has been the emergence of popular operating systems (Microsoft, AT&T UNIX), networks in the 1980s (Cisco and Nortel); followed by dominating, horizontally focused database applications in the 1990s (Oracle and Lotus).

Much like the database application focus in the 1990s, Warmenhoven now predicts a new IT focus on data storage and management for the coming decade. He sees NetApp as one of the key vendors positioned to become a leader in this space. "When you look at the NT and Unix storage space, there are only two companies who've gained market share since 1998: EMC and NetApp," he said. "Both are horizontally focused. The big losers were vertical [hardware manufacturers]."

Recent reports indicate that NetApp captured over 60% of the network-attached storage market last year. Warmenhoven sees little erosion of this share of the NAS market going forward. "In any case, we expect not to lose share."

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