NetApp's Virtualization Boss Speaks Up

Brendon Howe thinks NetApp's virtualization efforts need more explanation

August 17, 2007

4 Min Read
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Brendon Howe, senior director and general manager of the V-Series Business Unit at NetApp, thinks his company's virtualization efforts aren't getting the credit they deserve. And he was eager to set the record straight in a talk with Byte and Switch today.

"NetApp hasn't said a lot on the subject of virtualization, but we've had a lot of activity in this area," says Howe, who joined NetApp in spring 2006 and formerly worked at Acopia, Trebia, and Synernetics.

While Howe's area of focus is the V-Series product line, he insists NetApp's interest in virtualization starts with server consolidation.

"Every dollar spent on server virtualization is equal to three or four dollars spent on storage as part of that consolidated infrastructure," he says.

Howe reiterated NetApp's commitment to partner VMware today, claiming that over the last 12 months, the two firms have racked up 3,000 customers running VMware ESX on NetApp storage platforms. He says about 15 percent of all VMware ESX customers are already using NetApp systems.NetApp and VMware have more specific plans, though details are shady. The two forged a partnership centered on joint engineering, marketing, and services efforts earlier this month. (See NetApp, VMware Strengthen Ties.) "We see a great opportunity to collaborate and work more closely with VMware," said Howe.

Is this just a marketing vehicle? Howe says no, there will eventually be VMware-specific support in some unspecified areas of the NetApp line. Broadly speaking, NetApp and VMware are planning to target areas such as disaster recovery, test and development, and virtual desktop environments with their joint solutions.

The partnership will definitely have its sales side. "We see no end in sight for pursuing joint sales opportunities," said Howe, downplaying the suggestion that this creates an awkward situation with VMware's parent company and NetApp rival EMC. (See VMware IPO: A Storage Celebration, The Other Side of VMware's IPO, and EMC Still Rules VMware.) "The competitive lines get a little bit blurry because customers want different systems running together -- the game is changing."

If NetApp and VMware limit their actual technology blending, it won't be surprising. Some industry sources think integration of two distinct virtualization technologies is problematic. This point came up when VMware's rival XenSource signed an OEM deal to run Symantec's Storage Foundation product on top of its virtualization hypervisor, a move seen as putting XenSource ahead of VMware. Symantec and XenSource plan to release joint products later this year. (See Symantec Drifts Into Xen and XenSource Signs Symantec OEM.)

Howe suggests that "integration" may mean more support and certification. "It need not be a complete code integration," he says, pointing to NetApp's integration with Oracle's RAC technology and SAP's Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) solutions. (See Storage RACs Dow's Brain, NetApp Helps Oracle Set Sail, The New Giants of Storage, NetApp Intros Software, and SAP Unveils SOA App.)Howe also focused on storage-specific virtualization from NetApp's V-Series storage products. The V-Series arrays, including the V6000, V3000, and GF270 systems, feature thin provisioning and other virtualization functions via the ONTAP 7G operating system with separately priced features like FlexVol. The goal is to offer virtualization in one array capable of supporting file and block data via Fibre Channel, iSCSI, or Ethernet-based filing systems.

Howe insists the V-Series differs from the rest of NetApp's gear only in its support of heterogeneous storage from HDS, HP, EMC, IBM, Fujitsu, and 3PAR. Eventually, he says, heterogeneous storage support will be featured in all NetApp arrays. (No date was given for that, though.)

The exec addressed questions about NetApp's joint sales agreement with 3PAR. (See 3PAR, NetApp Join Ranks.) Why, if NetApp has thin provisioning for block as well as file data, is the 3PAR alliance necessary?

"3PAR doesn't have file services covered," Howe says. Customer demand to have NetApp act as file system in conjunction with 3PAR block storage on the back end has nothing to do with thin provisioning. "The majority of customers using 3PAR and NetApp V-Series use our thin provisioning as well as 3PAR's."

He also insists there is no reason the V-Series can't support block-based thin provisioning as well, despite the 3PAR alliance. "FlexVol lives above RAID groups," he says.While Howe maintained NetApp's ascendancy in the virtualization arena, he couldn't be specific on roadmaps or announcements. One thing, though: The VMworld conference in September will probably not be a vehicle for any big product news.

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Hitachi Data Systems (HDS)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC)

  • 3PAR Inc.

  • VMware Inc. (NYSE: VMW)

  • XenSource Inc.

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