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Kissane to mould NetApp: Time to turn off the tap on ONTAP

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Comment NetApp has sharpened its focus on corporate strategy by moving incumbent product strategist Jay Kidd to a chief technology officer role and recruiting Jonathan Kissane from CA to a new chief strategy officer role.

Kidd, previously SVP for product strategy and development at the storage firm, and an ex-CTO at Brocade, now reports to EVP for product operations Manish Goel. Kissane was SVP for corporate development at CA and now gets responsibility for "all NetApp corporate development initiatives, including oversight of acquisitions and equity investments, the identification and evaluation of opportunities for technology collaboration, and targeted strategic relationships."

He reports to CEO Tom Georgens and is a corporate suit par excellence it seems, with an MBA from INSEAD and a JD from Harvard Law School. His dual undergraduate degrees are in history and engineering from Stanford. But he's no hands-on engineer, that's for sure.

Kidd gets to look after "NetApp’s technology vision as the storage and data management industry is transformed by the impact of virtualisation, flash, big data, and the cloud." No more day-to-day product strategy and development then, it would appear.

Georgens' canned quote for the announcement release could only have been written by a corporate PR flack: "Jon and Jay possess exceptional talent and foresight, and together they’ll not only help determine how NetApp addresses the needs of today, but how we set the IT agenda of tomorrow.”

So, what are the problems Kissane, Kidd and the rest of NetApp will need to address?

Where to start? NetApp has huge strengths but, let's face it, no disk-to-disk backup system and virtual tape library system, missing out on a multi-billion dollar market. It should buy Exagrid and have done with it.

NetApp's object storage strategy is weak, and needs object storage inside ONTAP to build on ONTAP's strengths. Or it needs to build storage products outside the ONTAP corral and so become much nimbler and more agile at bring new products and functionalities to market.

The whatever-it-is-it-is-inside-ONTAP mantra has proved to be a serious brake on development, witness the eight years between the acquisition of Spinnaker and the release of clustering in ONTAP. Is object storage development to be similarly slowed to glacier-like pace?

NetApp needs to do more in HCP storage. Engenio looks as if it has lost some focus. Import some Panasas pizazz or DataDirect drive or even Xyratex ClusterStor smarts.

NetApp lost its filer market lead to EMC a long time ago. It is losing out on scale-out filer opportunities by focusing on ONTAP clustering instead of having a separate scale-out filer product. Why doesn't it strip out unwanted ONTAP stuff and develop an a specific and ONTAP-branded scale-out filer product in a similar way to the ONTAP Edge remote office product? Then it could give Isilon a run for its money.

The flash-only-as-a-cache strategy needs re-examining as it is becoming obvious that all-flash arrays with ground-up designed software will be better – as in cheaper and faster and more reliable in flash endurance terms – than all-flash or flash-cached arrays using disk drive-based controller software. If that's the case then get over it NetApp, and move on.

Nothing is forever and that includes ONTAP, however marvellous and wonderful it is - and it is marvellous and wonderful. But it is also stifling development. A question for Kissane and Kidd is this: Is NetApp ready to recognise that the Everything-ONTAP era is over?

El Reg's two cents' worth: yes it is. The Engenio acquisition implied so, didn't it? NetApp could face a hard choice; either stay with the ONTAP chokehold on development and face decline, or free development from ONTAP's shackles and grow. ®

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