NetApp's Kidd Talks Turkey

Exec explains NetApp's changed role in NAS, GX strategy, and more

April 20, 2007

4 Min Read
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SAN DIEGO -- Storage Networking World -- Jay Kidd, SVP and GM of Network Appliance's Emerging Products Group, has clearly faced the question before.

He's ready with a thoughtful answer when we ask him why NetApp hasn't offered one operating system that has it all -- why instead, the vendor's Ontap GX has the clustering capabilities today's NAS users need, without the advanced enterprise backup features contained in Ontap 7G. (See NetApp's GX Targets HPC and NetApp Ships Data Ontap GX.)

"For enterprise customers, we chose to focus on [Ontap] 7G," he says. "GX was always intended for high performance computing environments. We are working toward convergence. But our business success has resulted from not forcing that convergence."

Kidd says NetApp's clustering capabilities, based on hardware arrays like Isilon's, aren't aimed at the enterprise space, where sales of modular storage in the form of the FAS6000 series are reportedly brisk. (See NetApp Paints Rosy Picture.)

Speaking of Isilon, Kidd dismisses any real threat from that direction, except in the media and broadcast niche. He downplays CEO Dan Warmenhoven's outburst against Isilon at the recent analyst show. "Dan's comments were, well... The point is that we won't let Isilon take the clustering space."At some point, NetApp's strategy in emerging technology, while much criticized, must be weighed against the company's performance. NetApp shipped over 100 petabytes of storage last quarter, and its anticipated growth of 28 to 30 percent, based on its ongoing strong financials. (See NetApp Reports Earnings.) So far the vendor's primary focus on enterprise customers, a focus it's sharpened in recent encounters with media and analysts, appears to be working. (See NetApp Stokes Competitive Fires and Faceoff in the Vertical.) From Kidd's perspective, it's just not wise to mess with success by jumping on passing bandwagons.

Take CDP, for instance. NetApp's competitors have made much of the fact that Ontap 7G still lacks "true" continuous data protection, despite its acquisition of Alacritus in 2005. (See NetApp Annexes Alacritus.) Kidd says Alacritus had CDP in beta when NetApp took over, but after evaluating the startup's beta progress, NetApp decided snapshotting met most customer requirements. (See NetApp Readies Virtual Tape.)

"For enterprise customers, control of specific points in time should be configurable, not continuous," Kidd says. "Sometimes going back to a point in time is good enough, and you don't take a performance penalty." He says the process of data restoral after an outage can actually be complicated if there are too many points in time to choose from.

Then there's data de-duplication, another trend that has failed to put some fire in NetApp's belly, even though the vendor's ASIS (Advanced Single Instance Storage) feature should emerge on the supplier's Nearstore line sometime before year's end. "With de-duplication, you've got to do it right. If you lose something in the process, you can lose everything," Kidd asserts.

This isn't to say Kidd sees a limited future for data de-duplication. Far from it. Even though ASIS will debut in Nearstore, de-dupe will be a technology that eventually finds its way into other products. "De-dupe is not just useful in backup," he says. "De-dupe in primary storage will get there." For now, though, de-duping in secondary storage makes the most sense.Indeed, secondary storage is the primary focus for NetApp NAS these days. "People are sensitive to performance in primary storage," Kidd says. A key goal for NetApp is to maintain that performance level while getting more out of secondary storage in terms of backup, archiving, and other features. This is ostensibly why NetApp bought Topio for $160 million late last year. (See NetApp Grabs Topio.) It's also why Kidd told Byte and Switch at the March NetApp analyst day that "The real opportunity there [with Topio software] is to get more and more hooks onto primary locations and replicate that onto our secondary platform."

Kidd's cautious consideration of new technologies will likely continue to draw criticsm from competitors, who insist NetApp's lagging in clustering, CDP, de-dupe, and other new technologies. He's not concerned with that opinion. In his view, adding these kinds of features for their own sake doesn't an empire make. "Once everyone checks in, storage shares won't be dramatically different than they are now," he says.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Isilon Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ISLN)

  • Network Appliance Inc.

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