Net App focuses on business first, solutions second

If you ask Network Appliance Canada Ltd.’s Jeff Goldstein what the future holds for networked storage, he’ll tell you it’s about getting down to business.

The firm’s Sunnyvale, Calif.-based parent company recently announced that it will be trying to nip the evolution of storage in the bud by focusing on the challenges that are facing its customers’ businesses, and then dealing with them by providing solutions that will improve return on investment (RoI).

There are four major areas that are challenging customers in today’s world of storage, according to Net App: back-up and restore/data management, networked storage, business continuance/disaster recovery, and remote offices. By identifying these issues, and then applying the technology required to address them, companies can improve RoI with more simplicity.

“As the economy got tougher, I think what has happened is technical people even themselves are finding that unless they can relate the technology to a business problem, they’re not getting any money to solve their projects,” said Goldstein, general manager of Network Appliance Canada in Toronto. “We need to now help our partners and customers understand what their return on investment is and what total cost of ownership is for all of this technology that we’re talking about.”

The company’s plan of attack is to target the CxO-level members of companies to make them aware of what can be done to fix their storage dilemmas.

“We’ll talk to you about technology after we’ve agreed on what business problem we’re going to solve,” Goldstein explained.

Net App is attempting to address some of the issues – namely business continuance and manageability – with some new products and updates.

Included under the business continuance umbrella is the first product in the company’s NearStore family, announced last December. The NearStore R100 begins at 12TB and scales up to 96TB, Goldstein said.

“What this is…is what we call near-line storage. One of the problems that people have with back-up is, if you have a lot of data centres across Canada or across the world, you no longer have the ability to tell all your users to sign off so you can back-up,” he said. “So your back-up window that used to be all evening, is getting really short.…Your back-up window is shrinking and the data is growing. So what you are now having the ability to do with this product is take back-up storage, both Net App and non-Net App, and move it to this near-line the disk-to-disk way, which was much faster than disk-to-tape.”

The R100 is now shipping, and is priced at approximately US$0.02 per MB.

The company also announced SnapMirror, which enables enterprises to mirror only changes to data onto a filer that is geographically separate, thereby lowering bandwidth requirements. SnapVault, an enhancement over the company’s Snapshots management and another component of the solution, was also announced.

In the manageability realm, Net App announced its DataFabric Manager 2.0, allowing enterprises to better mange their storage. Enhanced features include an integrated management platform. The company’s newly released MultiStore software allows for consolidation across various servers and domains by enabling a single NetApp filer to be partitioned into several virtual filers.

The approach the company is taking is nothing new to the market, according to one analyst. Alan Freedman, analyst, servers and storage research at IDC Canada in Toronto, said other companies are taking on this same philosophy and approach, but they are doing it in varying degrees. EMC Corp., for instance, has implemented its AutoIS initiative, pushing for automation, increasing the focus on software and making sure everything can work together and work together efficiently.

“It seems like [Net App] is on the right track,” Freedman noted. “It seems like they’re addressing business needs and in fact that’s what customers want. It’s not technology for technology’s sake anymore. It’s that technology is just a means to the end, not the end. So I think that customers would much rather see vendors addressing the needs and can provide evidence as to how it’s going to provide value rather than just talking about speeds and feeds.”

One NetApp customer said the company’s approach will likely make his job easier, especially as IT departments are facing scrutiny with where and how they spend their dollars.

“Pricing is huge for us,” noted Marshal Linfoot, manager, UNIX technical services for the computing and network services department at York University in Toronto. “We’re provincially funded, and the province has said that we’re looking at budget cuts in the next year, so we’ve got a shrinking budget and rising costs in order to provide these services.”

The university is using three NetApp filers, and has been a customer for five years.

“As an IT manger, I’m looking for technical solutions. We’ve recognized for a few years now that having a central storage service is a good thing, and we’ve been pretty happy with what we’ve gotten from Network Appliance in order to do that.

“I guess what Network Appliance is trying to do is get that same kind of buy-in from my boss and her boss, and so on,” he offered. “And I think that’s a good thing because it will just make it a little bit easier for the technical managers to do their jobs. If the CEOs and CIOs…see that this is critical to the overall business operation, it’s just going to make it that much easier for the technical managers and the IT directors…to get budgets for this kind of stuff.”

More product announcement information can be found on the company’s Web site at