NetApp’s cloud-era storage competitors in ‘world of hurt’

NetApp is busily reinventing itself as a cloud services provider, with its competition years behind, according to its public cloud vice-president

NetApp’s competitors are “in a world of hurt” and “years behind”, said NetApp executive vice-president and general manager, public cloud services Anthony Lye, as he explained the company’s recent decision to buy cloud database platform provider Instaclustr.

According to Lye, the acquisition of Instaclustr is the next stage in an evolution that will see it integrated with NetApp’s Spot cloud delivery and optimisation platform and realised in the likes of “Spot for PostgreSQL” and “Spot for Apache Kafka”.

But why Instaclustr? Why is NetApp expanding into cloud database delivery?

Instaclustr provides a platform for management of open-source databases, pipeline and workflow applications that include PostgreSQL, event streaming product Apache Kafka, Apache’s NoSQL database Cassandra, in-memory datastore Redis, and (Uber-designed) business logic orchestrator Cadence.

Lye said NetApp will be able to integrate Instaclustr in ways that a company couldn’t, and will marry it to NetApp Spot. “Instaclustr serves multiple open source services and it was ripe for optimisation,” he said. “It could serve multiple databases, for example, but hadn’t solved the conundrum of integration.”

“Meanwhile, we have Spot; the best infrastructure integration layer for CloudOps and DevOps, that can build and deliver compute, storage and networking. We started to build higher-level services such as Spot for Apache Spark, Spot for PC [VDI]. So, the outcome of integrating with Instaclustr will be Spot for Cassandra, Redis, etc.

“We’re doing work on this now, in terms of product strategy and planning, though we can’t do things that would seem to be collusion,” he said.

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What’s the big picture for NetApp? Why expand to territory that seems so far from their storage roots?

“NetApp has successfully made a number of logical pivots in its history,” said Lye. “People thought it was crazy to get storage onto the public cloud; that they were enemies of storage. But the public cloud became very significant to developers. They no longer had to ask about the underlying infrastructure.”

And according to Lye, Spot has given the ability to present compute and storage as “primitives” that customers can specify according to “price and performance envelopes”, without having to think about the underlying infrastructure.

The idea is that Instaclustr will extend this to database, messaging and orchestration offers.

Why Instaclustr?

Why Instaclustr, though? Key here is the platform’s ability to serve multiple services. “We went through the process, asking ‘Should we buy a set of databases?’” said Lye. “But we’d probably have bought the wrong one, and then one is not enough.”

But is it a foray too far from NetApp’s core competencies, historically speaking?

“At the end of the day, what separates great companies from the average is that if customers want more, expect more, you have no choice,” he said. “Our traditional competitors are in a world of hurt. They argued cloud was not good and are now years behind. They looked at cloud as an evolution of on-premise, but it wasn’t.

“NetApp made the dynamic decision to learn about the customer and the cloud, and to expand. We saw the fundamental design shift to cloud operations, and the trend to ‘shift left’, to increasingly write everything into code,” added Lye.

The firm signed an agreement to buy Instaclustr in April, with closure expected soon.

NetApp has made much of its Spot portfolio. Spot results from a 2020 acquisition, and allows customers to optimise placement of compute and storage workloads via Kubernetes with cloud providers, with an eye on cost.

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