NetApp corrects itself on flash vs the (hybrid) cloud

At the beginning of the year I blogged on NetApp’s long and winding road to gaining all-flash products that could compete with the market leaders in performance terms. The occasion for that was the NetApp acquisition of Solidfire.

In it I speculated that NetApp had, since the advent of flash in enterprise storage products, miscalculated or held conflicting opinions regarding its flash strategy.

But recently I spoke to NetApp founder Dave Hitz, who was in London with Solidfire VP/GM Dave Wright. He put NetApp’s faltering relationship to flash down to a simple miscalculation due to its early successes.

He said: “Early on we championed use of flash as cache while EMC went big on all-flash. We sold petabytes of it while EMC struggled to get off the mark. Our success blinded us a little. We felt we had the flash position covered and so we were a bit slow when it came to all-flash.”

Still, as in Berlin two years ago, the NetApp view of flash as a driver for change is of a different order to the cloud. Sure, NetApp has upgraded flash in its strategic vision. It sits alongside the cloud as one the two key drivers in storage now, but is less fundamental to the evolution of the datacentre.

Dave Wright told me: “Flash and cloud are the two biggest ships in storage. And in the long term secular trends in computing we have seen the shift from mainframe to open systems/client-server and now to the cloud and next-generation datacentres with the attributes of cloud in the datacentre.”

He added: “But flash is fundamentally a media change. You don’t have to re-architect the datacentre. You put it in front of your apps and they run faster. And now the cost is coming down we are seeing increasing adoption of flash.”

Hybrid cloud is the key for NetApp, with Hitz and Wright painting a picture of a world in which CIOs lack loyalty to one model – whether private or public or hybrid – and apps migrate between them according to need.

Wright said: “The benchmark of price and performance coming from the cloud has put pressure on internal IT. To become more agile. And you can’t put everything in the public cloud. It used where it is appropriate.”

He added: “The end game for the cloud? There is no one way. People often migrate into the cloud because it’s good for burst loads, but then that becomes a continuous load and they bring it back in-house. It’s part of the toolkit. There’s not just one journey to the cloud.”