Feeds

Taking the bull by the balls: A NetApp history

Surefire Hitz, or a load of WAFL?

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Review People hungry for storage technology details will not be impressed by Dave Hitz's history of NetApp, How To Castrate A Bull. All they will learn about WAFL, Hitz's seminal invention underpinning NetApp's filer success is that it is "Absolutely wonderful technology that our non-technical customers don't really want to hear about". Ah.

The book, a kind of Hitz autobiography, is billed as providing unexpected lessons on risk, growth and success in business. We can't really understand NetApp's progress without understanding its technology and how it relates to that of its competitors, such as Auspex and Sun in the early days, and EMC latterly.

How To Castrate A Bull cover

The book is a non-technical history of NetApp and the main events in its life. The initial appliance ideas and contrast with Auspex are informative. The rocket-like growth of the company and the subsequent need for a new type of big company CEO which led to the painful ejection of fellow founder Mike Malcolm are also well-documented.

Hitz ruefully says that accepting VC funding meant that control of the company was seceded to the venture capitalists, but paradoxically this made it easier to get rid of a CEO and founder who no longer fitted. Malcolm didn't have a big enough NetApp holding to be unsackable.

His account of the hypergrowth dot-com period and then the crashing to earth is interesting and a good read on its own, as are various points he makes about running companies in such circumstances. He tells a good story, uses great anecdotes and examples, and is a transparently very nice guy. One example he uses to illustrate an engineer's mindset is the half-glass one - optimists say it's half full, pessimists that it's half empty... and an engineer that it's an oversized glass. Priceless.

The book is also good on the need to change strategy at various points; from indirect sales to direct sales and then adding an indirect channel again. It becomes frustrating to techies when Hitz talks about adding SAN functionality to DataONTAP, not that DataONTAP is ever named in the book, with not even an index or glossary entry for it. SAN functionality was simply added to NetApp's products.

He reveals that he ran engineering for a while and then stepped back to become a kind of internal evangelist and strategist for what NetApp should become. This he presented as a future history, an account looking back at NetApp from a time in the future. It was successful.

Hitz reveals that he's worked on a second internal future history taking the company up to 2008. We are seeing the benefits of NetApp's adoption of these strategies.

Perhaps there is a third future history in action now and NetApp's response to cloud computing is included in it?

He reckons we are in an Age of Data, which is true enough; but it would be very, very nice to have a closer look at his thinking and a more informed view of the technology world that NetApp operates within, which led to things like the Performance Accelerator Module (PAM) controller caching, along with ASIS deduplication and V-Series management of solid state storage.

There is no mention of the Spinnaker acquisition, nor of NetApp product clustering. In fact, NetApp's acquisitions are left out - an omission of a topic that perhaps should have been included.

The book is published by Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint, and suffers from cheap paper and a lack of photographs. But still, lasting impressions are formed of Hitz's profound respect, liking and admiration for NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven, the good discussions of company values, the need to keep on motoring when in the growth phase and great discussions of NetApp culture.

But what a pity the technology side was downplayed. The book only tells half the story for us techies, leaving us hungry for much, much more. Still, with half a loaf in mind, it is a good story and a good read. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Azure TITSUP caused by INFINITE LOOP
Fat fingered geo-block kept Aussies in the dark
NASA launches new climate model at SC14
75 days of supercomputing later ...
Yahoo! blames! MONSTER! email! OUTAGE! on! CUT! CABLE! bungle!
Weekend woe for BT as telco struggles to restore service
You think the CLOUD's insecure? It's BETTER than UK.GOV's DATA CENTRES
We don't even know where some of them ARE – Maude
BOFH: WHERE did this 'fax-enabled' printer UPGRADE come from?
Don't worry about that cable, it's part of the config
Want to STUFF Facebook with blatant ADVERTISING? Fine! But you must PAY
Pony up or push off, Zuck tells social marketeers
Astro-boffins start opening universe simulation data
Got a supercomputer? Want to simulate a universe? Here you go
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
How to determine if cloud backup is right for your servers
Two key factors, technical feasibility and TCO economics, that backup and IT operations managers should consider when assessing cloud backup.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.