Some weeks ago I attended an HDS event (here ia a post of that day). HDS is heavily investing on a new strategy focused on bringing new solutions alongside its traditional offering. These solutions aren’t for every type of end user but they are attracting more and more attention. In the same week NetApp released an update to its mid-range FAS controllers (3200 series): faster, with more ram, with more cache, and so on, and so on… in short the ordinary stuff that doesn’t deserve to go into depth.

Demand evolution

Storage world is continuously evolving, however the most important trend is no more (only) the growing required space but the quality and diversification of demand. Indeed, at a first look, NetApp reacted very well to this trend acquiring some companies (e.g.: Bycast on object storage, LSI on dumb block storage), and not only NetApp though. All storage vendors are widening their product portfolio to satisfy new customer needs. Maybe EMC had probably better interpreted this trend and, actually, most of its brilliant selling figures no longer come from traditional lines of business but from acquired products (Isilon, Data Domain, RSA, VMware…).

Inability to emerge

On the other hand some vendors are visibly struggling. They have acquired many startups (sometimes like crazy) but then they struggle to transform strategy in to facts. HP and Dell are probably the most clear examples here. Their product lines are very interesting now but they fail on execution and, consequently, on sales (charts speak clearly). Looks like the message isn’t coming across crystal clear to sales forces in the field and storage culture isn’t growing as fast as the number of acquisitions.

Back to NetApp

NetApp is in the middle. Financial results are still good thanks to the historical products (FAS filers and all the stuff that is around and on top of Ontap), but it’s pretty clear that they aren’t playing at the same level when we come to talk about different technology and acquired products. Actually, I know that it’s far much easier to sell a well known product than a radically new one, even if it isn’t the best fit to solve a new kind of problem, but will it pay in the long term?
Many times, during my consulting activities, I find problems that should be solved with alternative (and better) technology but then, when I go to analyze and select potential vendors, I often find their ability to work with some of their products risky. The risk is not on the product itself but on the confidence or just the perceived interest that the company has in it!
NetApp is a great example of this bad behavior. It has always managed its acquisitions very badly, sometime ridiculously, but how long will this last? Bycast (StorageGRID) is probably one of the most evident examples: info on the website is useless, no visible roadmap (some rumors, few facts) and sales force is very reluctant on it… bah!
Bycast was considered a good solution before the acquisition, but now? Object storage is very appealing at the moment (Amazon S3 helped a lot in this) but I wouldn’t dare invest on a product that the vendor itself hasn’t understood and is not pushing, would you?
Sometimes I think that there are two NetApps, the one that thinks big and the one that suffers from the “it wasn’t born here” syndrome!

Bottom line

I’ve used NetApp only as an example, I don’t want to shoot on them, you can find similar behaviors in many other vendors. Anyway, I think that they should get a move on and take more advantages from the products that they have acquired.
In more general terms i should also add that sales people are very scared about cannibalizing their own business, even if it could be an opportunity in the long term: they prefer to sell what they know and monetize immediately without risk!
As I wrote above, there are a lot of interesting opportunities due to demand diversification, and they could be approached with smart and modern solutions aimed to help end users to save money and become more efficient. On the contrary, I often see a certain careless response from vendors and their reseller.
This approach is risky for the end user, who could find himself with an inadequate infrastructure, but also for the vendor itself (or its reseller) who will lose its value by giving an ineffective message.

Disclaimer: I work for an italian consultancy firm that has business relationship with many of the vendors mentioned in this article, including NetApp. I was invited to HDS’ influencer day by HDS and they paid for travel and accommodation, I have not been compensated for my time and am not obliged to blog.