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NetApp CEO on Cloud and Big Data

Interviewed on Feb 17, 2012 by John Gallant, IDG
Tom Georgens
Tom Georgens , President & CEO, NetApp The thing about big data is that there isn’t a clear definition of it, and a lot of times, people are putting into big data everything that’s already big, making big data ‘big’ by definition.

Interview Questions

Full Interview with Tom Georgens

CW : What’s the NetApp mission, and what defines the company?

Georgens: At our core, we’re a storage and data management company. That’s been our focus from day one, and we intend to be experts in that, although clearly as we get bigger we’ll expand our footprint. NetApp has been an innovator from day one. We effectively invented the NAS business back in the early days of the company. We innovated there around storage efficiency, around integration with business applications. Then we went through the most recent recession, and we came out of that as the innovation leader in storage for virtualized environments.

CW : A recent analyst report said you are on “an unstoppable growth vector.” What’s driving that, and where in the company are you seeing the greatest growth?

Georgens: Words like ‘unstoppable’ have a certain entitlement message, and I clearly wouldn’t want to imply that. We need to earn our business and our customer trust every day. But the business, even from the early days, has outgrown the market by several [times] for 20 years.

The key to that is bridging the gap between available technologies, software innovation, and customer need. NetApp recognized early on that this virtualization trend had big implications for storage as well. Our innovation has enabled more virtualization, which is the evolution to shared infrastructure or the private cloud.

CW : You have been very aggressive around private cloud. Explain your strategy for private cloud.

Georgens: In the near term, I think the private cloud opportunity is the bigger business opportunity for us. What the private cloud is enabling is what virtualization has done – it has allowed applications to become mobile and decoupled from the infrastructure. What customers are able to do, and this is what NetApp is enabling.

That transition from the siloed model to the shared infrastructure model is something that NetApp has been participating in a significant way. Now you can build one gigantic storage pool, just like you’re building one big server pool, that can serve a big pool of applications.

CW : We also hear a lot about big data. How real is big data today?

Georgens: One of the frustrations with big data is there isn’t a clear definition of it, and a lot of times people are putting into big data everything that’s already big, making big data ‘big’ by definition. The other thing about big data is it covers a bunch of use cases that aren’t necessarily aligned with each other.
We break big data into what we call ABC. A is for analytics. The ability to take multiple, disparate data sources and bring those together to make business decisions is real. A lot of companies are in that transition. The interest on the analytic side of big data is real. No question about it.

The B is big bandwidth. There are segments that are talking about generating a petabyte a day, which is a million gigabytes per day. These are really, really compelling requirements, and video is a big part of it. Products that are designed to serve up email or files or do small database transactions aren’t optimized for that type of workload.

The C in the ABC of big data is, generically, content. Every single business has something that requires a massive repository of data. That needs to be done efficiently, they need to know what they’ve got, and they need to be able to find it if they’re looking for it.
The reason why I don’t like the big data name is that all three of those have a different set of requirements, all three of them have a different application case, and they’re kind of lumped into this generic term ‘big data.’

CW : Next up, data deduplication. You were involved in a high-profile bidding war with EMC over Data Domain some time ago. Is it an area where you still think about an acquisition?

Georgens: Deduplication technology basically eliminates multiple backups and makes disk-to-disk backup cost effective. That’s one form of deduplication targeted at backup, and that’s what Data Domain was about. NetApp has also done deduplication. Unfortunately, it has the same name, but we focus on primary storage. It’s been a big part of our growth and in virtualized environments, the technology advantage is compelling. When NetApp is the first copy of the data, we sell a fair amount of the disk-to-disk backup behind it using our existing technologies. When NetApp is not the primary, the disk-to-disk backup there, what we call heterogeneous disk-to-disk backup, is why we were interested in Data Domain.

CW : One more: Desktop virtualization. Are you seeing greater adoption of desktop virtualization, and is that driving storage sales?

Well, yes and no. Do I see desktop virtualization? The answer to that is, unquestionably, yes. Initially desktop virtualization was in places where we saw big fixed PC infrastructures. But over the last few years, we’ve been seeing it a lot more from a mobile perspective. The ability to make the applications platform independent clearly is a driver. Obviously, the security, the patch management, the data protection is also key.
As far as storage, desktop virtualization effectively takes the storage off the desktop and puts it in a data center, where NetApp does participate. So the trend is moving storage demand towards NetApp-style products. A lot of the very, very largest virtual desktop installations in the world are actually done with NetApp storage because of these technology advantages we have.

CW : Oracle’s strategy seems to be one of trying to re-create and own all the pieces of the so-called computing stack, with hardware, operating systems, applications, etc. Do you expect Oracle to get more aggressive in storage? Would you expect them to acquire a storage company?

Georgens: Obviously, I can’t speak for them. The generic case that they’re doing, of integrated solutions from software all the way down to storage, is for all intents and purposes orthogonal to the virtualization story of building a big, broad horizontal infrastructure that can run many apps at the same time. As I see that play out, the velocity of the economics is too compelling. That will be the primary way of deploying applications. As far as Oracle more broadly, if their aspiration is to be IBM, then clearly I think they need more elements of the portfolio. If their aspiration is to basically dominate all components that run the Oracle database, then they can pick a different strategy. But Oracle is an aggressive company and I expect them to continue to do aggressive things. Whether they invest in storage or not, I don’t know.

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