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You Really Do Know Clouds

Posted by kidd in Jay's Blog on Aug 25, 2009 6:58:49 AM

NetApp made a number of significant product announcements today as part of our Cloud strategy.


When I talk with customers about Cloud, I find they are of two minds.   There are those that think Cloud is the next wave of IT and the future of everything, and there are those that think it is just a repackaging of things they already use.    I believe they are both right.


Whenever a new trend like Cloud hits the IT scene, there is the temptation to believe that there must be a revolutionary new technology behind it that will enable the bright new future, and by the way, render everything you have now obsolete over time.   In reality, the trends that actually do survive are the opposite.   They are not built on revolutionary new technologies, they are built on using proven technologies in new ways.   They don't render everything obsolete,  they build on it and enable a graceful adoption of the trend alongside existing solutions.   Brand new technologies make small markets.  Small markets prove out technologies.  Big markets are made from proven technologies used in new ways, and they get big simply because late adopters are more plentiful than early adopters.


For many enterprise customers, Cloud is the same journey they have been on to deliver more efficient, more agile IT.  What is new is the manner in which they may deliver it.   Some have built this infrastructure themselves and deliver IT as a Service within their companies.   Others will opt to purchase it from those who have already built it and decide to offer it as a service.   Like most discussions these days, it comes down to the economics. 


We have been working with a number of customers such as Telstra, Sprint, Transplace, T-Systems and others over the past several years to build out very flexible storage infrastructure to speed up the provisioning of new applications.  These companies had a vision of offering IT-as-as-Service and sought the best technologies to build their infrastructure. NetApp offered the most flexible and most efficient (in terms of utilization and operational cost) storage.   VMware offered the most mature server virtualization technologies.  Combined, they could build "Clouds" that were cost effective and highly responsive to changes in workload. 


We developed expertise in how to optimally design, build, and run these IT-as-as-Service infrastructures.   With each engagement, we refined the best practices we had learned and have now codified that into a solution called NetApp Dynamic Data center Solution (NDDC). The first step is to engage in a "Fast Start" workshop to help enterprise customers get started in building their own internal cloud, as well as a full service offering to help them do it.   For those customers who then use this infrastructure to offer an IT service to external clients, we can help the end users they work with understand the benefits of their architecture. 


Compared to our larger storage system competitors, our Cloud strategy is unique - we will be the technology partner of choice for storage and data management rather than competing with our customers by offering a branded Cloud service.    Our customers and partners have responded very well to this cooperative approach, especially those who are using NetApp to build their own service offerings.


We are proud of the technology we offer to enable IT-as-a-Service, and we are proud to be announcing some new products that extend our offering.   We offer the ability to build secure, multi-tenant storage systems where multiple clients can share and even manage storage infrastructure with assurance that no other client can interfere with their data - essential a virtual storage controller.   We are extending that with a product called Data Motion that enables all of the data volumes a set of applications use to be migrated between controllers without disruption to the application.   We are also extending our Flash strategy with an add-in Performance Acceleration Module that uses flash memory as cache in the NetApp controllers, and can accelerate disk-bound applications far more cost effectively than adding racks of mostly empty disks. 


We are also announcing Data ONTAP 8.   This is the next major version of Data ONTAP and will be the technology foundation for all versions going forward.   ONTAP 8 combines ONTAP 7G and ONTAP GX into a single code base, which enables us to focus our development resources more sharply.   We have put a tremendous focus on compatibility with ONTAP 7G, so that existing ONTAP 7G customers can non disruptively upgrade to ONTAP 8 and operate in exactly the same way with no retraining of staff.   Many will see better performance and all will be able to build bigger aggregates and use larger disks.  Over time, they will then be able to take advantage of the scale-out capabilities of ONTAP 8, but  they will do that at their pace without facing a major upheaval in their infrastructure.


IT-as-a-Service, or Cloud if you like to call it that, is here to stay.   But this is true because it has already been here for some time in slightly different forms.   Economic downturns tend to give rise to new approaches based on technologies that are proven, but not yet widely accepted.   Virtual server technology shows compelling cost savings.   Storage efficiency technologies like deduplication, cloning, and thin provisioning show compelling cost savings.  And these technologies are now being used in place of the legacy choices to build infrastructure that is more flexible and more cost effective, which in turn is  enabling the rise of large scale service-based IT offerings that were simply not economically feasible before. 


The Clouds may be new, but they are made from technology you probably know and love.  


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