Yesterday, NetApp announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Solidfire for $875M in an all cash transition. Having spent more than 7 years at NetApp, I thought, I would provide my perspective on the deal .
As we all know, NetApp had a 3-way strategy around Flash. First, All-Flash FAS for customers looking to get the benefits of data-management feature rich ONTAP but with better performance and at a lower latency. Second, E-Series for customers looking to use applications side features with a platform that delivered raw performance and third FlashRay for customers looking for something designed from the grounds up for flash that can utilize the denser, cheaper flash media to deliver lower cost alternative with inline space efficiency and data management features.
The Solidfire acquisition is the replacement for the FlashRay portion of the strategy. The FlashRay team took forever to get a product out of the door and then surprisingly couldn’t even deliver on HA. The failure to deliver on FlashRay is definitely alarming as NetApp had some quality engineers working on it. Solidfire gives NetApp faster time (?) to market (relatively speaking). Here is why I think Solidfire made the most sense for NetApp –
- Solidfire gives NetApp arguably a highly scalable block based product (at least on paper). Solidfire’s Fiber Channel approach is a little funky but let’s ignore it for now.
- Solidfire is one of the vendors out there that has native integration with cloud which plays well with NetApp’s Data Fabric vision.
- Solidfire is only the second flash product out there designed from the grounds-up that can do QoS. I am not a fan as you can read here but they are better than the pack. (You know which is the other one – Tintri hybrid and all-flash VMstores with a more granular per-VM QoS of course)
- Altavault gives NetApp a unified strategy to backup all NetApp products. So the All-Flash no longer has to work with SnapVault or ONTAP functionalities. Although the field teams would like to see tighter integration with SnapManager etc. Since most of the modern products make good use of APIs, it should not be difficult. (One of the key reasons why NetApp wanted to develop an all-flash product internally was that they wanted it to work with ONTAP – You are not surprised. Are you?)
- Solidfire has a better story than some of the other traditional all-flash vendors out there around Service Providers which is a big focus within NetApp.
- Solidfire’s openness around using Element OS with any HW and not just Dell and Cisco (that they can use today). I want to add here that from what I have gathered, Solidfire has more control over what type of HW one can use and its not as open as some of the other solutions out there.
- And yes, Solidfire would have been much cheaper than other more established alternatives out there making the deal sweeter.
Keeping technology aside, one of the big challenges for NetApp would be execution at the field level. The NetApp field sales team always leads with ONTAP and optimization of ONTAP for all-flash would make it difficult for the Solidfire product to gain mindshare unless there is a specific strategy put in place by leadership to change this behavior. Solidfire would be going from having sales team that woke up everyday to sell and create opportunity for the product to a team that historically hasn’t sold anything other than ONTAP. Hopefully, NetApp can get around this and execute on the field. At least that’s what Solidfire employees would be hoping for.
What’s next for NetApp? I can’t remember but I think someone on twitter or a blog or podcast mentioned that NetApp may go private in the coming year(s). Although it sounds crazy but I think its the only way for companies like NetApp/EMC to restructure and remove the pressure of delivering on the top line growth especially with falling storage costs, improvement in compute hardware, move towards more software centric sales, utility based pricing model and cloud.
From a Tintri standpoint, the acquisition doesn’t change anything. We believe that flash is just a medium and products like Solidfire, Pure Storage, XtremeIO or any product that uses LUNs and Volumes as the abstraction layer have failed to grab an opportunity to bring a change of approach for handling modern workloads in the datacenter. LUNs and Volumes were designed specifically for physical workloads and we have made them to work with virtual workloads through overprovisioning and constant baby-sitting. Flash just throws a lot of performance at the problem and contributes to overprovisioning. Whether customers deploy a Solidfire or a Pure Storage or a XtremeIO, there will be no change. It would just delay the inevitable. So pick your widget based on the incumbent in your datacenter or based on price.
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