NetApp recently announced the $870M purchase of all-flash array (AFA) vendor Solidfire. During a recent Eigencast podcast episode with current Solidfire CEO Dave Wright, NetApp CEO George Kurian admitted NetApp's current AFA wouldn't meet the needs of the market quickly enough, so the purchase makes sense from a business perspective.
But, there's more to it than that. Beyond hardware, I'll take a look at what makes Solidfire an interesting option for existing NetApp customers.
ONTAP: Tapped Out
I'm far from a storage industry insider. However, one of the themes I've constantly heard is that NetApp's Data ONTAP architecture has reached the end of its useful life. Storage industry expert Chris Evans penned a blog post illustrating the perception issues NetApp has with its ONTAP platform. At the time of its creation, Data ONTAP was innovative and made NFS-based arrays an appealing solution for customers wanting highly available, high-performance file-based arrays.
According to Evans, NetApp's struggles began when NetApp acquired Spinnaker in 2003. Commonly accepted among storage analysts, NetApp's acquisition of Spinnaker was a failure. Some problems included confusion among customers on the two different code bases and the product roadmap. NetApp had earned the reputation of trying to solve every problem with ONTAP. A common refrain is "ONTAP Everywhere." An example is NetApp's Cloud ONTAP partnership with AWS. NetApp attempts to pull forward a brand that dates back to Intel 486 architecture to a public cloud platform.
SolidFire: A fresh start
According to Kurian, NetApp expects to immediately market SolidFire's existing platform post acquisition. Solidfire has found a niche among cloud providers, as its AFA solution was designed with cloud providers in mind. For example, a surprising approach was to offer an iSCSI only solution for the first few years. When I asked Wright about the lack of Fibre Channel (FC) support, he maintained their existing cloud customers weren't demanding the connectivity option. I mention this to highlight the focus on the cloud use case. At the time, FC connectivity was expected in enterprise use cases. Solidfire has since offered an FC option.
Solidfire's array has strong multi-tenant support. The OS maintains separate administrative domains for security, networking, and event logging. Customers can even set up individual fault tolerance domains. For enterprise customers looking to transform their data centers to support private cloud infrastructures, the storage control plane is among the most interesting pieces.
Solidfire also exposes a full RESTful API to their clients. The same APIs used to create Solidfire's management software are available to customers.
The importance of this architecture over something like ONTAP can't be understated. Solidfire's solution is designed from the ground up for use cases like OpenStack. Customers can select a cloud management platform (CMP) such as OpenStack to manage all storage. Another option is to build a cloud-native application that directly controls storage as needed.
NetApp and Solidfire have their work cut out for them. As of this writing, NetApp's market cap is approximately $7.5 billion. Solidfire isn't expected to immediately impact Netapp's bottom line in a significant manner, however, NetApp has quickly added some cloud credit to their reputation.
What do you think?
Has NetApp moved your perception of their cloud capability with this acquisition? Or, is this too little too late? Share your opinion in the comments section.
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Keith Townsend is a technology management consultant with more than 15 years of related experience designing, implementing, and managing data center technologies. His areas of expertise include virtualization, networking, and storage solutions for Fortune 500 organizations. He holds a BA in computing and a MS in information technology from DePaul University.