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ONTAP isn't putting NetApp ONTOP

Anonymous Coward
Anonymous Coward

When I started at NetApp back in 2005 Dan Warmenhoven and Tom Mendoza used to rave with passion how the storage business was a "two horse race", with NetApp due to eat EMC's lunch at some point in the near future. We were first to market with iSCSI (threw in a license with every install) and ONTAP 7 mode with FlexVol's was all the rage. Spinnaker was in the bag and the future looked bright. Converged "scale out" storage was not too far away.

I think there were around 1500 people back then. Not exactly ground floor, but It was exciting being part of a growing, dynamic organisation.

EMC soon cut our grass in the iSCSI market. They also quickly outgrew NetApp's core business, file based storage. It didn't matter - we were the good guys - we had the "real" converged storage that did block and file, and our snapshots simply rocked (and still do I might add).

The "two horse race" thing lasted for another couple of years at the all hands meetings. Tom Mendoza would wrap them up and leave everybody with a lump in their throat. We were going to win.

It was probably around 2008 when the "two horse race" thing was forgotten. Sure, there was always lots of internal back slapping about how NetApp was taking it to EMC. For mid-range storage, the technology was leaps and bounds ahead of anything they had to offer. But NetApp couldn't market. EMC were always there, winning deals, spreading FUD and outplaying us at every turn. The Data Domain thing was probably the ultimate humiliation for Dan and Tom. We even had the Data Domain CEO speak at our all-hands meeting and tell us how psyched he was that they were joining NetApp. Once again, EMC outplayed us at the last minute.

Don't get me wrong, things were great at NetApp. It kept growing at a cracking pace, everyone was making money - the product rocked and for the most part customers were really happy. There were rumblings when Tom Georgens and Jay Kidd joined that Tom was the chosen one to take the reins from Dan when he retired. He'd been one of the few (maybe the only?) CEO's ever to go from startup to billion dollar plus businesses. But I guess he was looking forward to slowing down a little, and enjoying the success that he'd created. Dan was awesome.

Middle management started spread. NetApp went from an extremely flat org structure to a much more "vague" cloud of dotted lines and indirect reports. Wankers with MBA's started to multiply. All of a sudden, TLA's proliferated ever increasing meetings about some bullshit metric or another, and they started focus on keeping our customers happy wasn't always number one anymore.

Every acquisition bar E-series was a flop. The obsession with Cluster Mode killed innovation for about 3 years while engineering finally was forced to made it work after about four years of doing fuck knows what with spinnaker.

NetApp began to miss their numbers. I distinctly recall the first time in happened. Tom Mendoza actually teared up during the all hands when they announced it, and finished off with something like "I'm not sure if I wanna do this anymore". Stirring stuff. Dan Warmenoven stepped down. Tom Georgens stepped up.

Some of my former colleagues from Sun started to see familiar signs. Awesome products witha management team that really has no idea where it is headed.

Over the subsequent years, the "realignments" began. The first one I saw was a "last in first out" kind of affair. Horrible to go through, but hey, were all adults and it happens. The next couple started to target people. Fair enough - gotta get rid of that dead wood. There was a strange consistency evident in all of this though. No middle or senior management ever got the tap on the shoulder. Nobody with direct reports ever took responsibility for the missed numbers.

NetApp had become a place where middle management was a place to hide in endless meetings while pursuing vague quarterly strategies created by the latest batch of dickhead MBA's.

The product is solid. Some still industry leading features. There's been some awesome moments. FlexPod was pure genius. Every tier 1 vendor is playing catchup there. Kissing Cisco's ass paid off for a while.

The real problem lies with the strategy and execution. That and the market has shifted. NetApp should have bought Pure/Nimble/whatever when they had the chance - but then again with their track record in acquisitions that could have been a disaster. Instead there's the home grown debacle called FlashRay.

The company focuses more on getting high rankings in the Great Place to Work surveys than innovating and winning.

The story isn't over - NetApp's got a lot of life left in it yet. It will be interesting to continue to watch from the sidelines and see how it unfolds.

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