back to article Why the USS NetApp is a doomed ship

NetApp last month changed chief executives, and in May laid off just over 500 people. Some believe this is the start of great new things and a turnaround for NetApp. I disagree. To put this as bluntly as I can, NetApp is most likely doomed. Getting rid of the CEO won't save it. NetApp's problem is that the culture of: "The …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Voting For "Zombie-Like Has-Been"...

    ...but FlashRay will be promised real soon!

  2. From the States

    Beaten?

    The US Navy may have been bruised, even battered, but this is the first time I have ever seen it listed as "beaten" in August, 1945.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Beaten?

      "Beaten" as in "some beat upon them" not "beaten" as in "defeated".

      And yes, the US Navy had the shit kicked out of it. But ho! You should see the other guy...

  3. StorageArch

    NetApp bought LSI/Engenio E-Series running on VXWorks. Their pride in a bloated ONTAP (think NetWare back in the day), caused them to not be visionary enough to realize the potential of VXWorks to date. The E-Series quietly changed from ASIC to Intel, and retained VXWorks. What it lacks is FAS' premium features (the E-Series premium features havent been updated in years). However, imagine if NetApp put VXWorks on the FAS, and hooked the FAS snapshot, and other capabilities into it? It runs fast on Intel, doesnt break, isnt bloated, has no fragmentation problems, has very small metadata slivers on each drive - low OS overhead. They could then have a single management interface across all of their systems, and not have to worry about block on FAS. What is their premier flash system right now? What systems actually are deployed in block requirement engagements? Which one's have infiniband?Performance? E-Series. The list goes on... They missed the boat.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

    NetApp has a solid base of customers that are happy with their products. They have pissed many of them off in forcing them to move to cluster mode - I am surprised that wasn't mentioned in the article.

    I can see the point of view here - especially the espousal of hyper-convergence, which is great technology, and perhaps it will become a mainstream option for SMB to large environments. But I don't know of a hyper-convergence solution that has a filer.. Please let me know of one that does, I would be interested in seeing that. We have storage vendors and VARs beating down our door to check out the latest new storage product. But if it doesn't have a filer option (windows or linux servers in front of block storage does not count), we aren't interested. A converged filer is too vital to our infrastructure and piece of mind.

    The other thing they NetApp has going for them is that they are a company that develops products. Sure, FlashRay hasn't been a success (so far). They bought the clustering solution that made cdot possible, and it took years to get there - but they have done it.

    Ontap is an OS - even if hyper convergence is the only thing anyone is going to want to use in the future - not sure I buy this, but lets stick with that thought - what's to say NetApp doesn't release a version of Ontap for hyper converged systems that runs as a storage VM? I can't imagine that's out of the realm of possibility.

    EMC doesn't innovate, they buy technologies and market and sell them (good thing they got in on the ground floor with VMware). HP has 3par and that was purchased, they don't create any storage products. Dell Storage seems pretty doomed, and their storage portfolio was through purchases (me too). IBM storage seems equally doomed if they even bother to try selling storage that isn't attached to a mainframe anymore. Hitachi is great, but mostly high end - nothing for the SMB market.

    There are lots of other smaller players out there (hyperconvergnce! AFF! etc), but until one of them is around for more than 10 years, its hard for a lot of outfits to pony up hundreds of thousands or millions of bananas for them since it is where all the data lives. Suddenly not being able to access your data on your storage product from a company that doesn't exist anymore is a pretty normal nightmare for a lot of firms.

    Yes, NetApp buys technology sometimes, but they actually create storage products that can be used in SMBs and large enterprises. They have also shown a willingness to create products out of thin air (FlashRay) - even if they don't get off the ground right away or ever. I wouldn't count them out that quickly.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

      But I don't know of a hyper-convergence solution that has a filer

      Nutanix. Announced at their .NEXT conference. Everyone else I know in the HCI field is actively building filers into their products for future releases as well.

      10 years goes by fast. What happens when these "smaller companies" have, in fact, been around for 10 years and Netapp has done sweet fuck all in the meantime? Hmm?

      Netapp isn't innovating now. That means they are already dead and they just can't admit it.

      1. Mr.Nobody

        Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

        Again - this really seems like a article to start bashing netapp.

        To say NetApp isn't innovating right now seems a like you aren't paying attention, but you don't seem like someone interested in having a conversation. It does make me understand why people have no interest in participating in comments sections.

        I will check out nutanix, but so far I haven't found anything that explains how file sharing works. If you have a link to their filer offering I would like to see it.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

          Sorry mate, but you're just wrong. I "bash" everyone. The Register doesn't pull punches, mate...and NetApp quite frankly isn't pulling their weight. You strike me as someone rather invested in them. If not financially then certainly emotionally. Sorry if the truth is upsetting, but it is what it is.

          Talk to NetApp about adapting. Once they manage to start making real movement in that direction perhaps there won't be so many negatives to talk about. Sorry about your feelers.

          1. zkysr

            Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

            Your article is whining and that is why it appears to some folks as NetApp bashing. You state NetApp is no longer relevant but you do not point out why with any substance by giving real examples (your analogy is weak), nor do you detail how any storage company can or will address the emerging challenges or opportunities that you have failed to point out. I guess whining, speculation, and bashing is how the reg is currently relevant, good job because you have us posting, and I agree you bash everyone and I am happy to see you admit this article is bashing.

            1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

              Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

              Your customers are whiners? The people trying to sell your stuff are whiners? I'm glad to see you hold the opinions of the individuals and corporations who purchase NetApp's products in such high regard.

              I'll be sure to link them to this post with your views on the subject.

              But thanks for proving my point so spectacularly.

              1. zkysr

                Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

                "Your customers are whiners? The people trying to sell your stuff are whiners? I'm glad to see you hold the opinions of the individuals and corporations who purchase NetApp's products in such high regard.

                I'll be sure to link them to this post with your views on the subject.

                But thanks for proving my point so spectacularly."

                You think I work or have worked for NetApp because I pointed out your whining (and only you)? Hope you do not lie and credit my personal views on your whining to NetApp. Why can't you just do your job and go into the specific details of how storage requirements are changing and where specific NetApp portfolio (not my) gaps exist?

                "The honest truth? I wrote the article because of the number of NetApp people stampeding around conferences, forums, Twitter, comments sections and literally everything else claiming overwhleming superiority of NetApp over all things. Now, that's fine and good when they can back it up, but it really did not line up at all with what everyone who was not from NetApp were saying...and quite frankly what many who worked inside NetApp were saying behind closed doors."

                Why is this your motivation and not what is really going on in the data center? Are you sure all of those people work at NetApp? Not saying they do not but you think I do when I do not. Clearly NetApp is not superior over all things and any sane person knows this, but you had to write a passive aggressive article under the guise of analysis?

                1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                  Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

                  You think I work or have worked for NetApp

                  No, I think you're affiliated with Netapp because of your "Clearly NetApp is not superior over all things and any sane person knows this," attitude. It's the sort of thing NetApp has been very careful to ensure is the only view allowed internally.

                  Why can't you just do your job and go into the specific details of how storage requirements are changing and where specific NetApp portfolio (not my) gaps exist?

                  Who says that's my job? You? And how do you know I'm not putting together such a piece already?

                  Why is this your motivation and not what is really going on in the data center?

                  Because there's usually an interesting reason why the smell of bullshit is stronger in some places. Besides, what people are doing in the datacenter today is not really all that relevant. They're doing that with stuff they've already bought. What matters is what people will be doing in their datacenters tomorrow, as that drive innovation, competition and - most importantly - sales.

                  Are you sure all of those people work at NetApp? Not saying they do not but you think I do when I do not.

                  Not sure to whom you're referring, but yes, I am absolutely positive that some of my sources work at NetApp. As for you, if you don't work at NetApp what rational reason would you have to be so frothing? Why should I assume anything other than a fairly direct association?

                  Now, being an anonymous commenter on the internet you're fairly useless for analysis or quoting purposes, but as far as "frothing commenter in a comment thread" it's fairly safe to presume affiliation or insanity. It's not polity to presume insanity, so I choose to presume affiliation.

                  but you had to write a passive aggressive article under the guise of analysis?

                  Reading comprehension is important to all people at all times. The article is tagged "comment", not analysis.

                  Anything else you would like to vomit on the carpet? Or are we done here?

                  1. zkysr

                    Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

                    "Not sure to whom you're referring, but yes, I am absolutely positive that some of my sources work at NetApp. As for you, if you don't work at NetApp what rational reason would you have to be so frothing? Why should I assume anything other than a fairly direct association?"

                    How can you not be sure who I am referring to when you wrote what I was referencing. I am not twisting your words like you are with me. Your writing has no real specifics and with the time you spent on that shit (since you like to be crass) analogy you could have gone into valuable details that help professionals. I have been a reader since the beginning of the reg and there is more and more garbage like this these days and that is why I commented and the only reason but believe what you want if you cannot accept criticism for what it is. Maybe you cannot be direct and because of this you believe everyone has ulterior motives.

                    "Anything else you would like to vomit on the carpet? Or are we done here?"

                    Sure we are done unless you have to have the last word to feel good about yourself, if that is the case by all means respond and I will not say another word.

                    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

                      Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

                      How can you not be sure who I am referring to when you wrote what I was referencing. I am not twisting your words like you are with me. Your writing has no real spec.

                      You make an educated guess and then you verify. It's how grown up learn things.

                      How can you not be sure who I am referring to when you wrote what I was referencing. I am not twisting your words like you are with me.

                      If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, clearly it's a pony. Clearly.

                      Maybe you cannot be direct and because of this you believe everyone has ulterior motives.

                      Not everyone. Just the people who are so overwhelmed with rage that they feel the need to comment. Commenters make up less than 1% of the readership, and among them most aren't quite so angrily tart as you've proven to be. So when you get to fractions of a single percent of pure internet rage, yeah, I start asking some questions.

        2. JeffMohler

          Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

          "To say NetApp isn't innovating right now seems a like you aren't paying attention"

          What are they offering in enterprise NAS/SAN that is not the same old vertically managed array?

      2. admiraljkb

        Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

        For NetApp, they need to train their own employees for cluster mode, because they don't know anything other than 7 mode based our experiences with tech support so far, as well as the installer that was sent out for our new one. It was almost enough to put them back on 7 mode so we could get better support from NetApp on a version they no longer "support".

        I'm currently plopping up some spare Supermicro and Dell equipment and going hyper-converged via the oVirt(RHEV)/Gluster combination. Definitely a learning curve to it, but the experiment is looking increasingly like its going to work out, which will ultimately lead to less requirements for NetApp in my environment. Its not just NetApp that hasn't been paying attention (to both their current customers and the future), several other old school awesomeness players like VMWare and Cisco haven't kept up either to the oncoming storm.

    2. Cloud 9

      Re: Seems like an article set up for bashing NetApp, but...

      Regarding hyperconverged providers delivering filers - see this: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/06/09/nutanix_scale_out_fileserver_coming_q4_2015/

  5. SeymourHolz

    unworthy argument for such a worthy topic

    An analogy comparing 20th century aircraft carriers to 21st century data management would be odd even if well-executed, and this was not well-executed. NetApp may be doomed for good reasons, and it's a shame this article didn't explore some of them. Give Pott a mulligan on this one; let's see another attempt at the topic, this time without quite so many pints of Stella.

    1. admiraljkb

      Re: unworthy argument for such a worthy topic

      The analogy only broke down because CV6 was beat all the hell towards the end of the war, and needed to be decommissioned anyway. The last of the Yorktown class carriers, she was still under Treaty limits for weight. This meant towards the end of the war with all the additional changes made, she was overweight, under protected, and far less desirable than the Essex class carriers which were over-abundant by that point with 3 Midway class ships nearing completion. (Incidentally - all these years later the Essex class is still a decent/balanced design for what is now a small carrier, whereas the Yorktown class preceding it is not.) Perhaps a better analogy would have been the Iowa class Battleships, which didn't get very heavy usage, but were very modern and extremely capable ships left without a role.

  6. Joe 48

    The slowest death ever?

    Netapp are still making money as far as my limited understanding of their figures goes. How long will their death take? 10 years? At least by then we'll know if Nutanix or EVO-Rail have gained any traction or if they are still too busy making pointless blog posts about how shit each other is!

    Netapp's original strength was smart software in OnTap, lets face it 8 years ago it was good, very good. By todays standards its lacking. Who knows what they've got in development but one of their issues recently was how long it took them to respond with cluster mode and how poor it was when it arrived.

    The other issue is how they treat their partners. I'll be honest I've not installed a Netapp for a couple of years. Tends to be EMC or Nimble these days. Not because Netapp are doomed, simply because they've been a pain in the ass to deal with, deal reg's are going to larger partners and they simply don't seen keen to engage. EMC and Nimble are both keen to engage and are passing leads over all the time.

    Due to their size and market I suspect they'll survive this blip, as long as they can innovate again. They might be doing it now, as far as I know they won't be publishing what they are working on right now. People have been predicting the death of traditional storage for years, yet I'm still installing them at the same rate I always have.

    You have reminded me I need to stick my community edition of Nutanix on a couple of UCS blades and see it in action! Oh and I need to play with VMware Vsan and an EVO-Rail.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: The slowest death ever?

      How long will their death take? 10 years?

      At least. if not 15 or 20. I mean, hey, Novell are still around...but the Novell of today doesn't have a bent fraction of the relevance of Novell in the 90s. $deity be still, SCO are still around, despite everyone's fervent efforts to murder them.

      The existence of a company doesn't mean that company is anything but a shadow of it's former self.

      As I said in the article: Netapp are relevant for today's refresh. Maybe the next one. But not beyond that. And the problem is that they aren't preparing for the future. They aren't making the radical changes required to be relevant past the immediate term.

      Worse: Netapp are not very good at integrating acquisitions, so they can't simply buy innovation and hope it all goes to plan. Their toxic "OnTap is the only hammer you need" kills any new hotness they buy in a right hurry.

      NetApp doesn't need to innovate at some nebulous point in the future. They need to innovate now in order to be ready for that future! Sadly, that is not possible given NetApp's current corporate culture.

  7. JeffMohler

    "NetApp has a solid base of customers that are happy with their products."

    Don't forget that this is a 7mode base.

    The Cmode shift, has only just begun with 8.3 raising the bridge over the moat. Give the base 3-5yrs to run into the EOL upgrade cycle and be forced to Cmode, to judge how happy they really were.

  8. Magnus Pike

    A premature obituary ?

    Interesting article, and with perhaps some element of truth. Certainly lacking some substantive evidence of the primary premise that NetApp are doomed.

    Is perhaps the point being made that 7-mode has past it's 'best before' date. I think most people including many at NetApp would agree with that. Though I think it's important to remember why 7-mode has lasted so long is that customers want it. It's well understood, and so reliable that single filers stay up for years with minimal intervention, that's important.

    Cluster mode has been around for a while and NetApp are actually vigorously pushing it now, albeit belatedly.

    A little premature to be writing off Netapp me thinks.

  9. anoncow

    The US navy could not be construed as battered or beaten in any way at the end of the second world war. In fact a new heavy carrier was commissioned about every 60 days from 1943 on. At the end of the war the US navy was the most powerful on the planet, by far.

    1. perlcat

      Yep, and thanks to the powers that be

      now our Marines need to hitch rides on other nation's ships. Embarrassing, really.

  10. markkulacz

    Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake I shake it off, I shake it off

    "Monolithic" has been revived. Once left for dead after the open systems movement, the word now has new life getting slapped as a label on the open systems that (I thought) replaced the "evil empire of monolith" systems. Open systems shared storage is the new monolith.

    Ugh.. I try not to get hung up on these "tech X is dead" articles, A sort of techno-geek version of a rap mic contest. Maybe I'm just not in the right social circles. "Tech X is dead... Tech Z is the future" is what people love to talk about at Star Wars conventions (speaking of the evil empire), Which is really odd.

    To the author - Why is Isilon, a company nearly 15 years old, is still described by you (and others) as "the future"... a span of time approaching twice the active life of the Enterprise CV-6?

    But if 10 years is somehow the "that tech is obsolete" moment, then explain why the Lockheed C-130 has been in continuous operation for over 50 years (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_C-130_Hercules).

    Its all about the right tool for each job, which makes the best use of known technologies available at the moment, using abstractions that applications and people can use effectively.

    Oh yea.. I'm with NetApp. You know the drill. Drills, remember them? Homo sapiens learned of the benefits of rotary tools around 35,000 BCE. Oddly, still useful.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake I shake it off, I shake it off

      "To the author - Why is Isilon, a company nearly 15 years old, is still described by you (and others) as "the future""

      Where did I describe Isilon as "the future"? Link please?

      Also: hi, we're from IT. IT obsoletes way the hell faster than aircraft carriers. Aircraft carriers periodically get refurbished and have most of their tech stripped out and replaced. What about your datacenter, when was the last time you replaced the technology, not just swapping out one ONTAP full of disks from an ONTAP with a slightly larger number of disks? Hmm?

      I await your description of how you've invented the IT equivalent of a rail gun and implemented it, changing "datacenter warfare" forever.

      1. markkulacz

        Re: Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake I shake it off, I shake it off

        Hey Trevor - Apologies, somehow my brain blended up several "NetApp is doomed" posts yesterday and I erroneously quoted you on Isilon. Embarrassing, and good for you for pointing that out.

        I have a well-functioning 30 year old Port-A-Matic nail gun, by the way. Great tool, but many fastening applications still use other tools. Higher-end wood building construction is moving back to pre-drilling and coated screws, which Ive always been a fan of. Not sure if nail guns changed building construction "warfare" forever, but they are definitely part of the picture. I also still use my Grandfather's hammers, built by Estwing in Bridgeport CT over 80 years ago.

        Everything else - I dont have time to respond. The weekend is too nice.

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake I shake it off, I shake it off

          Mainframes are still around. Should that be NetApp's ambition? To become the mainframe (circa 2015) of storage?

  11. smithy9090

    Toilet paper journalism

    This is why data volumes globally are increasing so quickly - people like Trevor Pott writing drivel on the internet.

    Fact: NetApp’s market share for Q1 ’15 is 15.6%, compared with Q4’ 14 share of 11.9%. Comparing market revenue growth from Q1 ’15 vs. Q1 ’14, the market growth was –1.2%. Their nearest competitor lost 3 percentage points.... Some customers believe in them it appears.

    Fact: They are the only storage vendor who has abstracted their software from the hardware and has a working solution for hybrid cloud. Companies aren't storing all their data on prem in enterprise platforms anymore y'all

    Fact: NetApp is the only storage vendor that can deliver multi-protocol (file and block) from a single platform with unlimited scale... and scale non-disruptively.

    Pipe down son...

  12. admiraljkb

    CV-6...

    was beat all to hell by the end of the war. Not as bad as the Essex class USS Franklin which had a twisted hull, but she'd still paid her dues. She was also the last Yorktown class left, which would have made her ideal for a museum....

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: CV-6...

      Yeah, the whole "she wasn't turned into a museum ship" thing was something I never understood.

  13. dikrek

    Beware of Confirmation Bias

    Hi Trevor, Dimitris from NetApp here.

    Some friendly advice: look up the term "Confirmation Bias".

    It can affect us all - the trick is sensing when it happens.

    It's just storage, not religion.

    Can it solve most business problems for a variety of enterprise sizes more successfully or not? That's the big question.

    Learning about the whole portfolio and how it interoperates might prove especially illuminating.

    Thx

    D

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Beware of Confirmation Bias

      Dimitris: for there to be confirmation bias you have to actually have something you're looking to confirm.

      Here's a quick hint: I don't give a bent damn who "wins" storage, or why. None of this crap - Netapp, EMC, Nutanix, Tintri, Pure, any of it - is stuff I'm going to be buying for my own use any time soon. So i research storage and the people who buy it and look at what they are buying, why they are buying it ans I ask all sort of nice, probing questions about what they like, don't like, the why of each and what they are looking for from future purchases.

      I do this at companies from the 5 man SMB all the way up to the largest Fortune 500s and government purchasers. I aim to get some pretty comprehensive information.

      Then - and here's the real interesting bit for me - I talk to people inside the vendors. I get a view into what corporate culture is like. Where R&D is being spent. How new ideas by staff are treated and how bureaucratic the companies are. I start doing my research and I talk to people who worked at other companies in the past during periods of success and periods of failure.

      I learn what makes different types of companies fail and what makes them succeed. I learn how in (or out) of touch different companies are with their potentially addressable market. I look at the CAGR of their competition and do ROI calculations (and estimations) based on various competing technologies and from all of the above attempt to extract a reasonable trajectory for businesses.

      I do this in storage because people tell me they want me to do it in storage. Here's a hint: I loathe storage. Always have. But I got sucked into it a few years ago (thank, Maxta!) and haven't been able to escape. There's just so much brutal, merciless warfare by desperate companies trying to murder eachother that there is almost literally endless work doing research and analysis in this area.

      So no, there's not much confirmation bias. I don't care who wins. I think the vicious axe-murdering of the storage industry is hilarious and I hope you all gnash eachother to bits for my own personal amusement.

      If you want the area where I absolutely do</i. have religion, and need to be <i>very careful about confirmation bias it's endpoint management. (I'm a Ninite fanboy, so sue me!) I get very religious about it to the point that if I am asked to write about it I ensure that i am getting my articles vetted by at least a dozen people before publishing, instead of the usual 3-4 for storage or SDN.

      That said, if you or yours want to take the time to walk through your portfolio and explain where you think I am so very desperately wrong about everything, I'll take the time out and listen carefully. That's my job.

      And, also: good luck with the storage wars. As I said, I don't care who wins, so if you prove me wrong and end up not only surviving, but thriving....good on you! I think it would be great fun to see a come-form-behind victory. The storage wars could use a good upset, they're getting a little stale.

      Cheers,

      --Trevor

      1. dikrek

        Re: Beware of Confirmation Bias

        Hi Trevor - what I'm trying to understand is why did you even write the article?

        What purpose does it serve?

        Maybe I don't understand what you do for a living. Perchance you could explain it.

        You mention all this research you do - are you an analyst? Have you attended analyst briefings at NetApp? We do them all the time.

        Thx

        D

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Who the hell do you think you are, Trevor?

          The honest truth? I wrote the article because of the number of NetApp people stampeding around conferences, forums, Twitter, comments sections and literally everything else claiming overwhleming superiority of NetApp over all things. Now, that's fine and good when they can back it up, but it really did not line up at all with what everyone who was not from NetApp were saying...and quite frankly what many who worked inside NetApp were saying behind closed doors.

          What really got me digging on this was discussions by VARs, MSPs and other people who have to actually sell storage. The tales are many and varied, but they rarely end with NetApp winning. Some of this I can (and do) discard as bravado and smack talking, but the sheer volume of different sources started to make me think that NetApp was presenting to the world an image of itself that was untrue.

          Very specifically I feel that NetApp is not a secure long term bet for companies, for all the reasons in the article and here in the comments section. This is a problem. NetApp is more than "just a filer". There is an entire data management ecosystem that NetApp is trying to sell people on. If NetApp fails to innovate and evolve at a pace required to keep up with a rapidly exploding storage market then their customers will find themselves locked in to a stagnant storage architecture that will ultimately place them at a disadvantage.

          Okay, so we have my views on the matter. But what does that matter, in the grand scheme of things? Why tell the world what I think? It all goes back to the "full court press" by NetApp evangelists and marketdroids. I hate stretched truths, half truths and outright lies. I cannot abide them.

          So I wrote about NetApp. Somone had to talk about the elephant in the room. The conversation needs to be had. It needs to be had for NetApp's customers - they need to think about all of this and decide for themselves if I am right or wrong...and what that means for them and the long term strategies around storage and datacenter architecture in their environments.

          NetApp needs to think about it too. If I am right - and based on the evidence I've assembled, I believe that I am, - NetApp needs to make changes if it is to thrive...maybe even if it is to survive. NetApp has been in full-on denial mode about these issues for quite some time...having someone who isn't the same list of enterprise storage bloggers and storage journalists speak up about it might well shock NetApp into contemplation.

          And oh, look, here you are.

          So the "why" I wrote the article isn't really simple and easy to write off. Nobody asked me to write it. I don't gain anything by writing it beyond the word rate I get for writing. I could have written about the memetics of cats on the internet or how to build a cantenna or a treatise on deterministic lockstep usage in video games. I get paid the same word rate either way.

          I don't think I made too many friends amongst the storagerati by writing this piece; we've all had this conversation at conferences before a dozen times. You don't get storage bloggers in a bar without eventually someone laughing about NetApp and then moving on something less depressing. I know I probably made some enemies.

          But with the CEO change and the "great purge of those who disagree/think differently", I felt the time had come to speak up. If not now, when? If not me, who? Everyone else who makes a living as a "storage blogger" or an analyst or whatever the box it is I am being put into now can openly say mean things about storage companies. They rely on those selfsame companies for income. They need you to like them, or their livelihoods collapse.

          I don't. Oh, don't get me wrong; I make my money doing analysty things, writing whitepapers and so forth just like they do...but I'm not nearly so monofocused as most of the others. If I get banhammered by the storage kingpins for telling the truth as I see is then I just write about SDN, or Automation or maybe I'll take up robots.

          I'm not so long gone from the coalface that I've given up my generalist tendencies.

          I haven't gotten invited to a NetApp briefing. I've certainly taken the time out to get the spiel from a number of folks. Watched all the webinars I could find and had quite a few great discussions about some really nitty gritty technical details will all sorts of different folks.

          You ask what I do for a living. I investigate for a living. I test hardware and software. Sometimes I set it on fire. I snoop in nooks and crannies and listen in on conversations I shouldn't. I pay attention to what everyone says. I write notes.

          I talk in public about things that others only talk about in private.

          I don't know what you call that. People call me to get the honest straight goods on a topic; lately, storage is a popular one. I write about it. I review things.

          Your competitors didn't ask me to write this article. I can think of no way in which I benefit from writing it (as opposed to having written something else). Yet I felt it had to be written. Maybe - just maybe - that's the thing to ponder here.

          I don't unload on companies without reason. Not even Microsoft. It's just not worth it to do so. I do it when I feel that the balance has been disrupted. When the needs of the many are better served by raising a fuss, or when something grievous has been done and a voice deserves to be raised in protest.

          The balance is off. Seemingly everyone can see it but NetApp. NetApp has carefully constructed their world so that dissent is not voiced, and opposing views are not heard.

          Count me honoured to have pierced the veil, however briefly.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Beware of Confirmation Bias

          I don't have a particular bias on this. I do question the motivation and the metaphor. There are a lot of other companies that are in much worse shape than NetApp and NetApp still has a pretty large customer base. Check out Gartner, arrays are still selling in significant volumes. I don't see why even if they were in the dire straits you describe they couldn't turn it around - they have the capital and base to work with. They probably could simply buy one of the smaller, newer storage companies if they need to. I don't think the metaphor does justice to NetApp.

          1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            Re: Beware of Confirmation Bias

            I don't see why even if they were in the dire straits you describe they couldn't turn it around - they have the capital and base to work with. They probably could simply buy one of the smaller, newer storage companies if they need to.

            Then you must work for NetApp. As has been described ad nauseam in this thread - and in the article - the big reason NetApp can't succeed is because the people who work at NetApp are some of the only people out there who can't see why it is that NetApp is doomed. They simply cannot comprehend the problem.

            An inability to recognize there is a problem limits the likelihood of buying the right companies to plug the gaps. And if, by some chance, NetApp does buy the right companies, history tells us that NetApp will do a piss poor job of integrating them, kill the best products, destroy the remaining products and drive out all the innovate talent from the acquired companies in short order.

            But, of course, the people who work at NetApp can't see that this is what happens. Everyone else can. Which leads up back to...

  14. luvthereg

    where will other vendors be?

    Trevor,

    I'm ok with your analysis, although a bit harsh. But, you've stated in comments that it may take 15-20 years for Netapp's demise. Do you really think there will be no innovation or absorption into another company by then?

    Also, your analysis of Netapp isn't much help to your readers if you aren't comparing with other big storage vendors. Where will EMC, HP, and HDS be? Are we to assume they are doing things right while Netapp is dying off?

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: where will other vendors be?

      "you've stated in comments that it may take 15-20 years for Netapp's demise. Do you really think there will be no innovation or absorption into another company by then?"

      Okay, let's break this into three bits.

      1) In order to be able to be relevant 5 years from now you need to have been investing in innovation 5 years ago. You need to be putting out innovative product into people's hands about now and 5 years from now you'll have enough adoption to be able to compete. This is something NetApp has cataclysmically failed at.

      2) You can not simply buy a company today and be relevant 5 years from now unless you have the greatest luck integrating them. so far, NetApp's track record for integration is shittastic. They also don't seem to keep the thinkers and innovators around very long after absorbing their tech. BAd, bad, bad. You pay how many hundreds of millions or billions to get a product that isn't going to evolve much? You'd better be able to get enough revenue off that new widget to deal with your ongoing lack of innovation and the decline of traditional markets! Not seeing this as a NetApp strength.

      3) NetApp is so large that it could survive irrelevance in 2020 and still be around (in diminished form) in 2025. I don't think anyone disputes that. Inertia is powerful in tech purchasing. But for NetApp to be relevant in 2025 they need to start innovating now, and that just isn't happening either.

      So NetApp is wielding the ONTAP hammer of singularness while spectacularly failing to buy the right companies and integrate them well. That combination doesn't bode well at all. NetApp desperately need new DNA, but I honestly don't think their corporate culture is capable of coming to terms with that fact.

      1. bitpushr

        Re: where will other vendors be?

        So the two big problems are:

        1. NetApp tries too hard to sell it's flagship product

        2. NetApp is not particularly good at mergers & acquisitions

        And this is enough to doom the company?

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: where will other vendors be?

          Yes.

          Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if they were innovating beyond their flagship much, but they aren't. And they really push any consideration of anything else aside. That is very much so a huge, huge, huge problem.

          Next?

        2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  15. chr1g1
    WTF?

    Doomed really?

    Interesting article. I would say we talk about use-cases and size of businesses for a while. If I sell one box yesterday and two tommorrow I grow 200%. NetApp's flash business is larger than the business of all flash startups combined. Clearly the growth rate is not the same.

    Back to customers: you are really implying that building silos with single-purpose boxes will satisfy customers? Also, trying to fix your primary workload only is not even good enough! How do you do backups? How DR? How do you automate and orchestrate? How do you move your stuff to a public cloud? NetApp has very clean answers to all of those questions and even more important there are also real products and solutions available today.

    Many vendor tried to bolt on NAS over the years. Some of them did very good marketing and got some market traction. The very same applies to converged systems, often from single vendor sources. Customer who switched, learnt the hard way that only the logo on the boxes was a clean match.

    To all commenters with a vage and outdated knowhow around NetApp, update your knowledge and be suprised how many innovation NetApp shipped over the years. Clustered ONTAP is such a data management beauty, which many customers fall in love with. By the way: migration to it is easy - controller based replication supported by a very nice gui tool called 7MTT - often easier than the migrations before, no matter you use NAS or SAN.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Doomed really?

      Yes. Doomed. Read the article. In it I said the following:

      NetApp made a great product, but that one product is all that they have, and in today's storage world there's really not a heck of a lot that's special about it anymore. NetApp solves the storage problems of last refresh cycle, and might be relevant for part of the next, but the company as a whole isn't doing anything substantial to address the fact that the compounded average growth rate (CAGR) of the storage array market is about to go negative.

      Nothing that any of the NetApp staffers who have commented in this thread has said addresses the actual point of the article.

      That you are making money today means nothing regarding tomorrow. Ask Novell. Or SCO. NetApp in 2015 is Novell in 1995. ON top of the heap and thinking they'll stay there out of sheer largess. Novell didn't see their utter annihilation coming either.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Doomed really?

        To be fair, as far I know none of the NetApp staffers that have posted here are executives or SVPs.

      2. dikrek

        Nothing special about it??

        Seriously, nothing special about it?

        http://recoverymonkey.org/2015/06/24/netapp-enterprise-grade-flash/

        An enterprise storage product that is mature in serving all major protocols (and FYI, retrofitting enterprise NAS on other systems is insanely hard, which is why nobody's done it).

        With no downtime for pretty much any operation, including things that would mean major downtime for other systems.

        With the best application integration tools on the planet.

        The best heterogeneous fabric management system in the world (OCI).

        Amazing automation (WFA).

        Great performance.

        Insane scalability.

        Technology that literally keeps the lights on (part of the control chain of many power distribution systems).

        Or deployed in life or death situations. By the most paranoid organizations in the world.

        That's the storage foundation behind the largest companies in the world.

        That's nothing special?

        I'd love to see what you consider special. Must really be something.

        Thx

        D

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: Nothing special about it??

          Nothing special about it. NetApp was cool 5 years ago. In case you hadn't noticed, the storage world exploded in that time. There's a lot of options that can take NetApp for one hell of a ride, thanks.

          An enterprise storage product that is mature in serving all major protocols

          *Yawn*

          (and FYI, retrofitting enterprise NAS on other systems is insanely hard, which is why nobody's done it).

          Funny, others seem to be doing just fine at it. Maybe your assertions are based on dated knowledge.

          With no downtime for pretty much any operation, including things that would mean major downtime for other systems.

          Some other systems. Old systems. Shitty low end SMB systems. Some legacy stuff from other fossils that haven't grown up in the past five years. But there's a hell of a lot out there that is perfectly okay with doing all sorts of major changes without downtime. *shrug*

          With the best application integration tools on the planet.

          Let's agree to disagree.

          The best heterogeneous fabric management system in the world (OCI).

          I'm neutral on this. More testing required. Mind you, a storage fabric isn't the only way to do scale out, scale up storage. At least, not fabric in the same way NetApp goes about it. But I'm willin gto be convinced on this point.

          Amazing automation (WFA).

          *shrug* Automation is increasingly table stakes for enterprise storage. Enough do it that it's really not making me excited.

          Great performance.

          Granted. But performance from almost everyone reached way the hell better than "good enough" some time ago. We're well past worrying about that. Now it's about driving down latency, heaping on the features, building for failure and driving down cost.

          Insane scalability.

          Define "insane scalability". Almost everyone has scalability. Is it rational to think about going to hyperscale with NetApp? The cost of that alone turns most people pale. NetApp is hugely, hugely, hugely expensive and thus is left out of conversations where "insane scale" would be a serious consideration.

          Netapp is a great tier 0 storage platform, especially for legacy workloads. If I had a workload that I know wasn't modern and designed for failure, needed life-or-death class reliability and I needed to know I could scale it up to a moderate-sized array, NetApp would be in my top five companies, no question.

          But the number of these tier 0 workloads out there is diminishing. New applications aren't written in in legacy Win32-style monolithic single points of failure. Scale is increasingly cognate with price sensitivity in today's storage market and so I am not sure exactly how scalability helps the NetApp marketing pitch. It just focuses the mind on what that much NetApp would cost and immediately starts one thinking about alternatives.

          Technology that literally keeps the lights on (part of the control chain of many power distribution systems).

          Or deployed in life or death situations. By the most paranoid organizations in the world.

          See above: great tier 0 storage for legacy workloads. No question. That's why it's still relevant for this refresh cycle. But it isn't the only storage capable of performing here...and increasingly competitors are earning their stripes as being reliable on this level. Even as virtually everyone is moving away from the requirement for this kind of storage.

          Is that what NetApp wants to be? The mainframe of storage? Because that's what I was warning about in my article: that slow fade to niche, maybe, ultimately, complete irrelevance.

          NetApp's reliability is a huge plus...but it's not enough to make it more than a point consideration for specific niche workloads.

          That's the storage foundation behind the largest companies in the world.

          Actually, the storage foundation behind the largest companies in the world is either OCP-style home-rolled storage (Google, Facebook, etc) or EMC. NetApp has a few wins as primary, but mostly NetApp serves the purpose of being a credible second-string provider used to threaten EMC during negotiations and you know that.

          The damning thing is that many startups are eating your lunch as regards to playing "beat EMC over the head and drive down margins". See: EMC versus Pure Storage as one example.

          That's nothing special?

          Not overly, no.

          I'd love to see what you consider special. Must really be something.

          Go to VMworld. It really should be renamed "storage world". You'll see all sorts of lovely things there. Marvelous and entertaining things. Storage to wow and amaze. Storage to run screaming from. Storage and compute that works together. Storage, compute and networking and automation and orchestration and NFV and hybrid extensions and more that work together all in one SKU.

          Maybe you should buy one or two. Incorporate their fresh thinking into your company after you buy them, instead of driving them out. Maybe you can bring to their products the level of QA and testing that makes your products so stable and reliable while gaining a much needed DNA infusion.

          What I find impressive doesn't exist yet. I'd link you to a much newer, more comprehensive article but sadly, that one hasn't been published yet. (Written, but not out the door, quite yet.)

          I'm rarely impressed by the past. Having the ultimate solution to fighting the last war is as irrelevant as the development of the F-22 Raptor. Just who exactly did the US expect they would be fighting with those things, hmm? That cold war wet dream was sure useless in clearing out a bunch of entrenched resistance fighters from hastily constructed bunkers in the middle of the desert.

          That is how I see NetApp. Not just the technology - that can be excused - but the corporate culture. The best and brightest laser focused on solving the last war's problems, completely ignoring the one currently being fought or the one brewing on the horizon.

          Alas, I feel that conversation may be falling on deaf ears.

  16. Gene Cash Silver badge

    New technology - jets

    Actually CV-6 and the rest were retired because they didn't have the catapults necessary to handle the newest generation of technology - jets. And you can't just retrofit them... catapults take up over 4 decks worth of equipment extending down below. (at least the old steam ones. the new electromagnetic ones are much more compact, which is why the US Navy is switching yet again)

    Edit: and yes, CVN-80 is expected to have an emag catapult. They're finishing up sea trials and other research right now for it.

    Edit 2: and I guess you could make an analogy that switching from props to jets was like switching from spinning rust to SSDs.

    1. admiraljkb

      Re: New technology - jets

      CV6 - Enterprise (Yorktown class) was retired because she was overweight, beat to hell, obsolete compared to an Essex, and a class of ONE after her other 2 classmates and 1 near classmate were sunk (ala an expensive to maintain oddball).

      Many of the Essex class were retrofitted from hydraulic catapults to steam (like Lexington), but they still couldn't carry as much in way of ordnance, fuel and planes like a supercarrier of the Forrestal and later classes. In most any other postwar navy, the Essex would have been awesome to have (still would be really, it proved to be a good design). However, in the large US Navy, the Essex were just too small for effective/sustained power projection.

      (yeah, nothing to do with Netapp, Naval history is a passion of mine)

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: New technology - jets

        Don't apologize, I like learning! Keep up the great comments, please!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This has been an ongoing train wreck happening for well over a decade.

    It's sad as they were once a great place but somehow their products haven't evolved and they

    never fully embraced the advent of flash being anything more than a jammed in disk tier or cache. Sometimes they stuff it into their Lsi arrays and practically give them away but they lack layer featured that were astutely called table stakes in the article

    They are sadly unable to acquire companies without rapidly killing them or their core IP somehow. Coral was great about spinfs but it somehow died and cmode seems to leave customers angry for one reason or another.. Customers often don't know why they have to move to cmode but they are being forced to and still don't get it. Cmode is more about ntap than the customer..

    I feel bad for them but they are ending up irrelevant and not engaged much anymore.. They still have the best Transactional NFS system on the planet for disk but that is the last piece that keeps them alive at this point.

    I don't seek out people to have negative conversations about ntap but it seems people seek me out to tell me how unhappy they are with the products that ntap produces, their support and the entire company. I remember when they were loved but customers seem to have strong disdain for them now.. I believe their netpromoter score is below 20 (17) and declining.. I sincerely wish they find a way to turn this around but it's far too late and they have had so many chances at this point.

  18. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The auther is right - and it's a shame

    Opinion:

    I remember sitting round a table well over a decade ago now explaining to my colleagues about the key differentiators that NetApp storage had over the competition. It was such an easy argument to win on paper and I made it core to my career, whether in enterprise or consultancy.

    Here's what killed it off for me about three years ago:

    1 - The end user experience

    The solution was always expensive but it could deliver such a wide feature set and still manage to perform reasonably up to and including the x1xx range (61xx 31xx). When the x2xx range were delivered, in spite of the speeds and feeds, the solution defied logic and appeared to cease providing the linear performance increase that you would expect with a next generation tech refresh. It was as if the underlying OS was incapable of exploiting changes in CPU architecture. I've not compiled stats to support this - it's only anecdotal stuff. In fact, in one case I was sure that I was seeing better throughput from an older generation mid range controller than I was a newer one.

    All the while, user expectation for performance followed general trends and the chasm between what I could deliver and what people wanted widened. Support quality took a dive (sorry but true) and complaints from customers meant repeated churning of that most cumbersome and hated troubleshooting tool, the perfstat. Considering the autosupport mechanism is already in place, you would have thought that NetApp would have made the investment to integrate perfstat in to that reporting loop rather than forcing people to jump through that kak handed RSH hoop.

    2 - C-Something or other

    During the extended lifetime of the x1xx hardware release a couple of things happened. NetApp took their foot off the gas for 7 Mode development and started throwing everything in to C-DOT / C-Mode / Cluster Mode whatever you wanted to call that decade old project. Very slowly, 7 mode began to deflate as NetApp started to blow all the hot air in to version that went live before it had matching features. At the same time, the need to do things at the array level lessened as people began to solve problems higher on up the stack. The market doesn't stand still - and if you take too long to deliver your new product, you have to consider whether it's still going to be relevant.

    3 - Competition arrived

    Others just started doing it better. Whilst the closed feedback loop of CDOT was happening all over the folks at NetApp, real innovation began springing up elsewhere. You cannot tell me that the Nimble isn't a genius product when you can push hundreds of MB read / write on just a handful of SATA disks. You can't tell me that Nutanix obliterates the needless complexity of monolithic storage + compute in one swipe. And even if you're looking for a like for like traditional product, v7000 delivers many of the features and stands up to performance demands - and I've only every seen the transition toward v7000, never back the other way.

    As all this went on, NetApp failed to innovate to the level of their competitors and they failed to acquire the right stuff. They appear to be trapped in bubble of C-DOT and Flexpod and I suspect they've turned up the marketing volume in an attempt to maintain their profile and drown out the competition. It's going to be interesting to see what happens to their market share.

    That's how I see it from my corner of the world and my own experiences. It doesn't mean that the experience is like that universally but, as a previous poster said, I find very few people in the industry praising them these days. Change is the only constant.

    1. madanko

      Well Said

      I used to be a big NetApp fan and I still like some things they bring to the table, but for the most part, NetApp's no longer on my radar. There are other technologies and vendors out there, simpler, easier, faster and less expensive. Do I miss some features with netapp? I do, but on the other hand my buck goes waaaaay further with my current vendors now that it did with netapp.

      Sorry netapp. No more. People now have better choices.

      nonTAP

  20. DeepThought

    Maybe some facts?

    There will be other readers I suspect who will look at articles like this where there is intense - polemic - discussion without any detail and feel somewhat disappointed..

    What is Netapp failing to do? What exactly is the future compared to the present? What new features must be included and how difficult is that to do? How many people actually need the features that Trevor is thinking about (but not being specific) and what evidence is there to support all this?

    I know journalism requires people to make noise even when there is absolutely no need for it but IT is riddled with constant new terminology - new anodyne, abstract words that imply innovation but usually are just rehashing existing ideas. Reg readers are more likely than average to be irritated by generalities and expect to see more facts. Without knowing what the real criticism is, it is difficult to judge whether the whole premise of the article is accurate or just hot air.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really conservative for this era..

    The article is true for most of it's part. Actually the conservative stance the company takes is puzzling. With about 5B in cash and reasonable debt levels, they had umpteen choices 2-3 years ago but chose none. They could have spun-in an R&D division with fresh talent load from top companies (or) could have bought a startup with a reasonable customer base (or) internally fired up innovation in house to re-architect and re-write Ontap like system for modern data loads/patterns. None of these happened which is appalling. While EMC is no great internal innovator they buy companies to plug the gap which has helped them stay away from really bad y/y declines. Tonnes of money have been thrown into share buy backs (exactly not sure for what!), as most people I know who do a good job have little or no RSUs - might be to just serve top guns and keep the share price high. The sad part is "It's hard to wake up some one who isn't sleeping".

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