The saying goes “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. Certainly, all of us have found examples of this to be true. Otherwise this statement would not still be in use to this day. However, what if I was able to tell you that you can teach an old dog a new trick? In our industry, plenty of companies, as they age and mature, become satisfied on maintaining the status quo and forgetting to push innovation. The storage industry is ripe with well-established companies that continue to dominate their market share. Odds are, you probably have one of their products in your data center.
That beings said, what if I were to tell you that there’s a transformation going on within one of those well-established storage companies? If I threw out terms like “OpenStack” or “Kubernetes”, I would bet that the first storage company you thought of was going to be a Valley startup. In this case, you would be wrong. That company, strangely enough, is NetApp. Feel free to take a moment to work that Keanu Reeves-esque “Whoa!” look off your face. Honestly, I was pretty shocked as well, considering, until recently, I have never personally worked with anything in the NetApp portfolio. This did change when I became a customer of SolidFire (which was acquired by NetApp back in late 2015). I’m not going to go into specifics into the SolidFire platform in this post. That would distract from the message about the internal metamorphosis going on within NetApp. Just know that, in my belief, SolidFire was acquired to continue molding this internal transformation.
The Road to Change
Change is hard, especially for those well established. You slowly become the saying of “That’s how we’ve always done it.” However, something had to be done within NetApp. The overall technology industry was asking for more from all of their vendors. No longer could we get by with hardware dominated solution with very little software to interface with that hardware. Storage administration had turned into an overcomplicated mess with little to be done to try to resolve it. Full-time administrators needed to be devoted to these hardware masses, just to be able to perform the equivalent of keeping the lights on.
Just when those administrators thought they could take a breather, along came an organizational shift. I’m not talking about a simple organizational chart realignment wheel spin. DevOps came along. It forced conversations about the way we approach our IT departments. No longer could IT departments be content with protecting their individual silos or technical fiefdoms. IT departments had to start aligning with the business goals of the overall organization. Contentment with just keeping your realm operational was no longer going to be enough to satisfy those outside of the IT department. We’ve dubbed this as “better business outcomes”.
To help enable these changes within the IT department, persons within had to start looking towards automation capabilities. They needed to start gaining efficiency in processes and putting them into technical systems to be able to better deliver the components necessary to achieve better business results. This meant, those in the datacenter needed to start looking towards their partners for help in better delivering software that would help them automate and orchestrate their data centers.
What I heard during the Tech Field Day 14 presentation, was a story of a large company trying to help their customers along that very journey. With better software development, NetApp has been able to make headways into products that you wouldn’t normally associate with NetApp. Better API capabilities within their ONTAP software have opened up capabilities in systems like OpenStack, Puppet, Chef, Ansible, PowerShell, Docker, Jenkins, and even Kubernetes (in the form of Trident).
I will admit that it was extremely refreshing to listen to a Tech Field Day (specifically, Tech Field Day 14) presentation from a storage vendor and have only one mention of the underlying storage architecture. As someone who primarily spends most of his day job hours busting silos and getting a technology organization to try to see that what we provide is greater than the sum of ports, spindles, virtual machines, and blades, I was pleased with the messaging during this presentation. The goal is easier accessibility by those that aren’t traditionally data center specific personnel. I really believe that NetApp is on the right path in being able to do so.