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Microsoft and NetApp find love in adversity

Eyes meet across a crowded market

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Comment It wouldn't be surprising if NetApp and Microsoft started collaborating more closely, especially over cloud computing, now that VMware, EMC and Cisco are in a 3-way marriage, and Microsoft is hustling Hyper-V out onto the data centre streets, with Azure following behind.

The dynamics of server virtualisation, data centre consolidation and cloud computing have driven VMware, EMC and Cisco together and led EMC to develop Atmos, its private and public cloud storage and computing service. EMC wants cloud and non-cloud data centres to consolidate onto VMware for server virtualisation and use EMC storage integrated with Cisco servers.

Seen from Redmond, EMC's VMware subsidiary has to represent the biggest-ever threat to its Windows Server goldmine. It is bringing out its own server virtualisation product (Hyper-V) and its own cloud computing platform (Azure). Both of these initiatives require storage facilities and one thing is blindingly obvious; Microsoft is not going to hand that business to EMC and let Tucci's invaders into its customer base.

It needs a storage partner that is heterogeneous in terms of server support, widespread in terms of its product offering - embracing both file and block-level access - and as heavyweight as possible to counteract EMC. Oh, and it should represent no threat to Microsoft's own interests.

There is only one candidate and that is NetApp. It is server vendor-agnostic and has no wish to do anything else other than sell storage products. It is also threatened by EMC, which has surpassed it on its home network-attached storage (NAS) turf and is probably out of reach with its SAN storage. EMC snatched deduplicating product vendor Data Domain out from under NetApp's nose and the Hopkinton hordes are respected and feared in Sunnyvale.

Given both NetApp and Microsoft's focussing on EMC/VMware as a highly important competitor and threat to future revenues, it is not surprising that Sunnyvale and Redmond are forging an alliance.

There are several pieces in place already.

NetApp has introduced Snap Manager for Hyper-V. There are Microsoft and NetApp documentation resources for integrating NetApp storage with Windows Server 2008 and System Center management tools. There are case studies showing how customers have done very well from choosing Microsoft-NetApp products, such as the American city of Frisco. Microsoft even named NetApp as its storage partner of the year for 2009.

We can already see the love, and wouldn't be surprised to see it get stronger, but only up to a point. For example, Microsoft could make a public declaration it will use NetApp storage in its Azure cloud data centres. NetApp could similarly state it is supporting Microsoft's server and desktop virtualisation with additional integration of NetApp array software facilities with Microsoft's virtualisation products.

NetApp could extend the integration of its products with Azure as well, to enhance storage provision, app-aware protection and management. For example, there could be special NetApp facilities to help provision SharePoint, SQL and Exchange instances in the Azure cloud faster, and to snapshot them in an app-aware way for fuller and faster protection and recovery.

Such things could be done without any need to exchange or share intellectual property by either Microsoft or NetApp. We would expect NetApp and Microsoft to work more closely together in the coming weeks and months, with a twin focus on Hyper-V virtualisation and the Azure cloud. There could be joint sales collateral and marketing initiatives, such as webinars.

It all seems very logical and nicely isolated in the sense that it wouldn't harm the interests of any other NetApp and Microsoft partners and would help blunt the cutting edge of EMC/VMware's incursion into both the Microsoft and NetApp customer bases. On this basis, we ought to expect a continuation and deepening of the Microsoft and NetApp love-in. ®

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