Extremely Cloud and Incredibly Close (to Utopia)*

By | September 24, 2013

1320“Who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp, Who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong?” So sang Barry Mann in 1961. 52 years later I ask a similarly alliterative question – who put the ‘loud’ in the ‘cloud’? Who’s making all the noise with this disruptive technology? Is it just vendors riding the next wave? Hyping the next trend? Or are businesses gaining significant benefit out of these new services-based  architectures?

Well, barely a day goes by without one becoming aware of a new cloud start-up.  ‘Cloudification’, or more prosaically ‘cloud washing’, the art of cloudifying existing applications and solutions, is now seen as essential to an established tech company’s survival.  From a storage infrastructure perspective, all the major vendors have been on the cloud bandwagon for several years. IBM is investing heavily into the area,  EMC went early with high profile advertising (their usual approach) on cloud, whilst Dell, HP and HDS would all claim a documented cloud storage strategy and some products & solutions to back that up. What of NetApp, the storage innovation leader and largest independent storage supplier? What are our credentials? What have we been doing in the world of cloud? Well, we’ll come to that.

CIOs the world over are highly aware of the possibilities offered by the various cloud architectures and we are seeing a lot of “early adopters” (in “Crossing the Chasm’” terms).  Indeed our own CIO, Cynthia Stoddard, believes cloud really allows her the opportunity to scale IT at the rate needed to support the growth we are striving for. Over 50% of the apps on which we run our business are hosted in the public and off-premise private cloud. That is somewhat ahead of the norm, but not atypical.  One would obviously expect a high rate of adoption by an innovation leader, but it is still a surprising figure. Hear her talk about what the cloud means to her and how development costs are being dramatically reduced by using cloud services.

In our Marketing department the vast majority of our systems are hosted or bought as a service, from Eloqua to Aprimo to Covario to Omniture, to name just 4 of the 30+ apps we use on a daily basis to manage our nurturing, lead management and operations.

However, on a cautionary note, the message I got from talking to a number of CIOs recently is that they are getting tired of every vendor cloudifying their offerings and talking as if the move to cloud is a straightforward path to nirvana. A thorough understanding of the issues and complexities is by no means a given and those CIOs are looking for trusted advisors – not those who beguile with their above-the-line advertising and hyperbolic claims, but ones with fully thought out offerings that anticipate the complexities of cloud computing.

So what is NetApp doing in the cloud? What have we been doing for these last four or more years in this space? Well in typical NetApp fashion we’ve been quietly getting on with solving customers’ problems and investing in engineering rather than investing in high profile marketing campaigns. In Early 2011 we created the first Services Provider (SP) program for the storage industry, believing quite rightly, as it turns out, that SPs would be in the vanguard of providing both public and private cloud implementations for their customers. Since that time enterprises have indeed adopted cloud services from these SPs but their models have progressed to a complex mixture of both public and private cloud implementations together with their own on-premise solutions into what the industry is now calling ‘hybrid cloud’. CIOs are trying to balance cost, control and service delivery and get the best mix based on the available XaaS from SPs, Internal Clouds and Hyperscalars. Back in 2011 when the SP program was established, Clustered Data ONTAP, NetApp’s storage operating system (#1 market share) was relatively new and not fully understood. Fast forward to today and we are onto our 3rd release – C-DOT 8.2. The technology has matured very nicely and we are now able to deliver the promise of a common data platform for the hybrid cloud based on this proven and robust technology.

Last week we outlined our strategy for data management in the hybrid cloud – basically bridging private and public clouds with a common platform. Essentially the premise is that regardless of the architectural model or models that a CIO uses to deliver the services to her or her customers, they will want to keep control of the data from a logical perspective. Data mobility, data portability, dynamic balancing of workloads throughout the hybrid cloud, fluid mobility between hypervisors, freedom of choice in selection and mix between hyperscalar, service provider and internal clouds are all key capabilities of the universal data platform provided by Clustered Data ONTAP 8.2.

CIOs do worry about these things. They know that there will not be one model of cloud computing. They will need to balance the security of on-premise workload processing in a cloud paradigm (especially things like chargeback), with buying services from an SP in a private cloud (either on-prem or off-prem), and with services from a hyperscalar like Amazon’s Web Services or Microsoft’s Azure as well as existing from service providers. Clustered Data ONTAP with its support for private storage for AWS as well as the aforementioned support for the other cloud models, is rightly considered an innovative technology in cloud data management and cloud storage and offers the CIO the freedom of choice they have been waiting for.

Above all, NetApp offers the CIO something that is hard to quantify but is ultimately the desired state – that of agility. The cloud paradigms offer the best opportunity since IT went mainstream 70 years ago, to harness IT to driving  business outcoms. A utopia isn’t that far away, one where the complexity of the data management layer is abstracted away from the administrator as well as the user. One where business users can self-provision data management services without needing to know anything about the underlying physical infrastructure or which mix of clouds is supporting their workloads.

NetApp is Extremely Cloud and Incredibly Close (to Utopia).

*with apologies to Jonathan Safran Foer for the terrible pun on the title of his brilliant book.

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