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No more WAFL waffle: NetApp changes tactics

From unified to diversified storage

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One WAFL size does not fit all

We could take a view that Warmenhoven-era WAFL dogma has held NetApp back, and it is only since Tom Georgens replaced Dan Warmenhoven as the CEO that NetApp has been able to break its WAFL shackles.

Georgens has now admitted ONTAP FAS arrays could not serve customers well in the high-performance computing (HPC), full motion video capture, and video surveillance markets. Storage arrays sold into them need to have higher performance and more bandwidth than NetApp's FAS arrays; this is an admission of weakness by NetApp.

Georgens thinks being able to sell into these markets will increase NetApp's total addressable market (TAM) by $5bn by 2014. That's not a lot.

Let's take a fresh look at NetApp's product line and the storage market in the light of this, and see what other gaps might exist, now that Georgens has lifted the WAFL veil.

First off is scale-out NAS, where NetApp does not have, in El Reg's view, a product in the Isilon/Ibrix class. Engenio arrays could provide the hardware for this but new software is needed, unless the relative cluster turkey that is ONTAP GX turns into a swan in front of our eyes.

Secondly, NetApp still does not have any high end, multi-controller block access storage like EMC's VMAX, HDS' VSP, or IBM's DS8000. Engenio makes traditional dual controller arrays in the VNX/EVA class and there is no indication that a multi-controller engine system is coming.

Thirdly, NetApp lacks truly effective primary deduplication. Talk to Permabit guys; it's the only game left in town and could leave A-SIS for dust.

Fourthly, NetApp lacks any array federation capability. Also, it lacks a stack-em-high, sell-em-cheap, scale-em-up-and-out cloud-storage building-block box, in the Atmos mould. Lastly, it lacks a cheap and scalable iSCSI storage box in the Dell EqualLogic/HP LeftHand mould. Again the Engenio hardware could be a base for this but new software is needed.

NetApp just signalled it wants to be a diversified storage product line player. That's going to cause a sea change in the way customers, commentators and analysts view the company, because they will compare it to other diversified product line players, such as Dell, EMC, HP, and IBM, instead of being forced to compare NetApp to ... well, NetApp, because there was no other comparable company.

NetApp is late to the diversified storage party and the removal of WAFL waffle from its marketing messages is going to expose it to a harsher world. If it is going to compete in that world it has to have a strategy to decide which segments to go after and how to execute its business in those segments. It also has to work out how its customers can manage multiple NetApp storage product lines.

Somehow I think more acquisitions are coming as NetApp finds it necessary to bulk out its offerings faster than it can build them in-house. Welcome to the party. ®

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