How do you explain to non-technical people what a high-tech company like NetApp does? I found myself in this position last week, because I spent the week on jury duty. About half of the jury was technical, computer programmers and chip designers, but the other half was non-technical, United pilot, mother of three kids, real estate agent, management consultant/executive coach—jobs like that. (We found the defendant, a drunk college student, not guilty of battery but guilty of resisting, obstructing or delaying a police officer.)
When the other jurors asked me, "What does NetApp do?", here's the answer I gave.
NetApp sells giant boxes of disk drives—boxes with hundreds or thousands of disks. Yahoo! stores all of their customers' e-mail on our boxes. The folks who made the Lord of the Rings movies, and lots of other movies, store all of the special effects data on our boxes of disks. Those are the flashy customers, but most of our customers store stuff like financial information, databases of their customers and employees, or maybe engineering design information for chips or cars.
But the trick is, NetApp doesn't make the disks. For some of our systems we don't even design the box or the electronics. Most of what we sell is software that does things like protect your data in case a disk fails, or even if two disks fail. If your whole building burns down, we've got software that'll make sure there's a remote copy of all your data somewhere a long ways away.
More recently we've been getting into even more advanced forms of protection. Like if the SEC visits your company and wants to see e-mails that your CEO sent eight years ago, we've got software that makes sure all the data from back then is still saved, and software that proves it's been kept tamper-proof so that the e-mail the SEC is looking at today is exactly the same as it was eight years ago. Or if you have disks or tapes with private information that you don't want anyone else to see, even if you lose the tapes, we've got encryption to protect the data from other people getting it. The military is using the encryption product in Humvees in Iraq, to make sure that the bad guys can't read our secret information.
In other words, even though we sell big systems full of disk drives, mostly what customers like about us is that we help them manage all that data more efficiently and easily than our competitors. They can store lots of terabytes in one place, be confident that it's safely protected, and manage the whole process with as little complexity as possible. And because NetApp is a younger company than our competitors, we have a more modern approach, which our customers find more flexible and responsive.