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NetApp Insight: Yes, NetApp still sells hardware

At the end of the final keynote at NetApp Insight last week, founder Dave Hitz decided to add some sanity lest people get the wrong idea about the vendor’s strategy.

Hitz summed up the message at Insight to that point as “Cloud, cloud, cloud, cloud.”

“You could be forgiven at the end of Day One to think, ‘Do they even think about on-prem anymore?'” he asked.

Hitz said a customer asked him, “How long before you think NetApp stops selling hardware?’ I said, ‘Dude, that is not the goal.’ We believe if we can help people get the data into the cloud that they want in the cloud, we will gain share on-prem. They’ll buy our on-prem gear because we make it easy to get to the cloud and back from the cloud. They want to be able to manage back and forth. It’s not our goal to stop selling on-prem.”

Hitz, who helped start NetApp in 1992, summed up its current strategy as, “not your grandfather’s NetApp.”

That is by design. NetApp CEO George Kurian said the vendor must adapt to keep up with the changing technology landscape. NetApp still derives an overwhelming majority of its revenue from on-premise storage but pushes a Data Fabric that includes a wide variety of cloud storage. The goal is to enable identical management of storage in the cloud and on-premises.

“Business as usual in IT will not enable success during this digital transformation,” Kurian said. “This transformation requires you to change the way the business and IT work together.”

Joel Reich, who has Kurian’s old job as executive vice president of product operations, said in the early days of NetApp’s Data Fabric focus, “people thought we were crazy, embracing the thing [cloud] that would kill use. They thought it was a crazy strategy. But we’ve re-positioned NetApp around the Data Fabric, telling a distinct story to inspire innovation and lead with the cloud.”

NetApp upgraded its flagship OnTap operating system at Insight. It brought out version 9.5 with a new Max Data product that helps take advantage of persistent memory in servers. But most of the product rollouts at the show were public or private cloud related.

They include StorageGridSG6060 object storage, NetApp Cloud Insights, Azure NetApp Files, Cloud Volumes Service, Cloud Volumes OnTap, SaaS Backup for Office 365, NetApp Data Availability Services and NetApp Kubernetes as a Service (NKS).

Another change for NetApp is the way it has embraced technology from acquisitions. For much of its history, NetApp was considered bad with acquisitions. Clustered NAS startup Spinnaker Networks was Exhibit A. It took NetApp more than a decade to embed Spinnaker’s technology into OnTap. A knock on NetApp was that it couldn’t master any technology outside of OnTap.

But its current “cloud-connected flash” portfolio includes flash technology from SolidFire (NetApp HCI is built on it), GridStor object storage from Bycast, Cloud Insights resource management from Onaro, cloud backup from Riverbed, persistent memory storage (Max Data) from Plexistor and container orchestration (NKS) from StackPointCloud.

If NetApp succeeds in the cloud, it will be on the back of technologies it acquired.

“This is about the new NetApp and what we’re becoming,” NetApp CMO Jean English said. “It’s a journey. The legacy of who NetApp has always been is a starting point.”

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