Clearly the entire market is getting more competitive, 5 years ago one of the big six (EMC, NetApp, HP, IBM, HDS and Dell) was the only real choice for most organisations. Today the market is much tougher - you have to add at least half a dozen start-up vendors to this list, some workloads are moving to the cloud and there are shrinking budgets since the recession.
The net result is that it is far more difficult for the likes of NetApp and EMC to sell their products and there is also downward pressure on margins. EMC's answer has been to acquire additional products (Data Domain, Isilon and XtremIO) which in the short-term increases their revenue, but does result in a single product for every use case. I do not believe that it is sustainable outside of the enterprise space and because they have so many products their "Swiss army knife" mid-market solution the VNX currently looks very "long in the tooth" compared to FAS. I would assume that sales of the VNX over this period have gone down much further than FAS.
The start-ups have done well by focusing on price, performance and simplicity, but they have two problems:
1. They do not make any money, as they are subsidised by VCs, so their business model is not sustainable (unless they are acquired which is their objective)
2. They cannot match the features and use cases that FAS or the EMC portfolio can
There is no doubt that NetApp has gone through a lot of pain moving from 7-Mode to Clustered Data ONTAP and that has put them back a few years, but at least they have now come through that and they have a platform that they can build on over the next decade - if only EMC put the same investment into their existing products rather than focusing on acquisitions.
For me what NetApp needs to do is focus on simplicity and affordable converged infrastructures - this is not FlexPod with Cisco UCS, but FlexPod with simple commodity servers at a price that is affordable to almost any sized organisation.
As for FlashRay personally I would rather see the IP that has gone into it ported into FAS and E-Series and I am sure we will at least partially see that. As far as I know FlashRay is in no way a ground-up flash design and instead it is a massively optimised version of ONTAP - which is no bad thing as "ground-up designed for flash" is just marketing. Today the EF series can easily hold its own from a price performance point of view with the likes of the EMC VNX-F and the All-Flash FAS with XtremIO and Pure - I really believe that outside of the enterprise space the ground-up All-Flash array is no longer sustainable.
Ultimately what we need is:
1. The fewest number of platforms to support all use cases
2. Ease of deployment and management
3. Value for money at point of purchase, additions and upgrades with list prices that are not massively over inflated
NetApp is in as good a position if not better than any of the start-ups and the market leader EMC to deliver on the above.
It will be interesting to see how all this pans out in the next few years - at the end of the day all we can do is just make our best guess possible.
I wrote a lot more about all of this at: