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NetApp deduping virtual tape in limbo

Walks away from development

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Updated with NetApp response NetApp is halting further development of its deduplicating NearStore product following its failed attempt to buy Data Domain. It is walking away from any development of deduplicating nearline storage products.

At a top level, NetApp divides data into hot to not-so-hot primary data, secondary storage, and then virtual tape library (VTL) storage for backed-up data. The primary and secondary data storage tiers are provided by its FAS arrays running ONTAP with its ASIS deduplication capability, with the proviso that ASIS should not be used for data needing fast access.

The VTL storage tier is provided by NearStore, a non-ONTAP array based on bought-in technology from Alacritus in 2005. NetApp added deduplication to NearStore in October 2008. The product did not make excellent headway in the 2007 to 2009 dedupe boom years when Data Domain emerged as the leader of the deduplication pack. Eventually, NetApp tried to buy Data Domain, but EMC snatched it out of the then NetApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven's hands.

At that time, EMC had a relationship with Quantum to supply OEM its DXi deduplication technology. It has now been dropped. NetApp's then CEO Dan Warmenhoven ceded his position to Tom Georgens, and now, some months later, just after Jay Kidd's transition from chief marketing officer to a senior product management role, Kidd has put NearStore out to grass and implicitly raised a question. What is NetApp's strategy for the storage of nearline data?

John Rollason, a NetApp EMEA marketeer, said: "NetApp VTL delivers value today to customers seeking to augment their tape-based backup approach with a high-speed disk cache for backup data, what we refer to as tape augmentation. ... Due to changing market trends and customer requirements we felt it was appropriate to invest more heavily in virtualization and ITaaS solutions. ... The market opportunity for tape augmentation has declined over the past year and, as we look forward, we do not believe it represents the best opportunity to drive growth and deliver value to a large section of our customer base."

The whole premise of the Alacritech acquisition, NearStore development, and the attempt to buy Data Domain is that NetApp should supply a deduplicating product to customers for storing nearline data. It has now walked away from that.

Is its message to its customers that they should buy product from CommVault (Simpana), EMC/Data Domain, ExaGrid, FalconStor, HP/Sepaton, IBM/Diligent, Ocarina, Quantum (Dxi), or Symantec?

Rollason said: "NetApp will continue to lead with the benefits of NetApp FAS, V-series, snapshots, SnapManager and our replication based backup solutions (SnapVault, OSSV and SnapMirror) which deliver a leading mix of speed, simplicity and storage efficiency. They compete well against EMC’s ‘mish-mash’ of replication products including RecoverPoint and Avamar."

“In situations where a customer is looking for a point-product like Data Domain that includes OST and IP replication, we will leverage Open Systems SnapVault (OSSV) and partnerships with Data Protection as a Service (DPaaS) providers like Consonus, Sungard Secure2disk and Databarracks to offer competitive alternatives.”

Will NetApp now look elsewhere to be able to supply deduplicating non-primary data disk stores to its customers, or is the strategy to offer such customers ONTAP/A-SIS deduplication? In fact it is something else.

Rollason's reply was this: "We intend to re-deploy resources from our VTL development organisation toward disk-based data protection solutions that will better serve virtualised and cloud infrastructures. These solutions build on current NetApp core data protection technologies and are in high demand from our target customers."

What about the NearStore VTL? ”The VTL roadmap is now focused on improving the current capabilities and adding new hardware support as needed to ensure long-term support for existing deployments."

“Given the long term priorities for NetApp, inline deduplication and IP replication are no longer a part of the roadmap plans for NetApp VTL. Development will focused on improving and hardening the current capabilities and adding new hardware support as needed."

In other words NetApp is turning away from supplying deduplicated nearline storage and is looking instead at protecting virtual machines and protection via cloud services.

Rollason expanded on these points: "Within the virtualisation market we are moving forward aggressively with solutions that automate and speed up the process of protecting virtual machines. Whether a customer uses VMware, Windows or Citrix, our goal is to offer a compelling and highly differentiated offering to traditional backup methods which are overly complex and fail to deliver rapid recovery."

“Within cloud environments – sometimes referred to as IT-as-a-service – our strategy is to provide offerings that blend availability, backup, disaster recovery and compliance. ITaaS customers and service providers need flexibility to deliver on a variety of service level objectives that may include any and all data protection functions. Traditional backup applications and approaches offer limited value in these new environments, and we are looking to build on our existing capabilities to increase the already strong offerings we have."

What about further acquisitions?

“NetApp is always looking at companies that offer compelling technology and extend the value we can provide. If we were to find a company that had a significant IP base and had an affinity to our products, customers and sales force we would examine it. Beyond that it is NetApp’s stance to not comment on possible acquisitions.”

This is a quite radical decision, possibly the biggest so far made under Tom Georgens' leadership of NetApp. While virtually every other storage vendor has a strategy and a capability for supplying deduplicated nearline data storage, NetApp is turning away from that and focussing on replication and snapshot-style protection of VMs and protection in the cloud. That's a unique departure from current industry practice. ®

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