Cloud Field Day 6 Prep – NetApp and Dell Technologies

This is part of a series of posts I’m writing as I prepare to attend Cloud Field Day 6. There are a total of eight presenters planned for CFD6, and I am going to cover two vendors per post. My goal is to have a basic understanding of each vendor’s product portfolio with a focus on cloud related products. Some of these vendors I am already familiar with, and others are new to me. In this post I am going to take a look at NetApp and Dell Technologies.

NetApp

NetApp was kind enough to present at Cloud Field Day 3, where they had Eiki Hranfnsson present about where NetApp was going. Before joining NetApp, Eiki was CEO of Greenqloud, a public cloud service acquired by NetApp in 2017. I have detailed my thoughts on the CFD3 presentation in a previous post. And I also wrote about NetApp in general for Gestalt IT, so feel free to read those posts if you are curious. To summarize, I went in thinking of NetApp as that company that makes NFS filers that are sometimes used for VMware. I left the presentation thinking, NetApp is trying to build something completely different than their core product.

Why would a company look to pivot so hard into the cloud, DevOps, and HCI? I think that NetApp saw the writing on the wall when it comes to being a traditional storage vendor. HCI and software defined storage are two technologies that threaten the core ideas of dedicated SAN arrays and filers. Why pay the high sticker price for branded hardware, when you have companies like Hedvig, and technologies like vSAN and Storage Spaces Direct, that allow you to leverage commodity hardware at a fraction of the price for the same or better performance. Add in the threat of people moving all their storage needs to the cloud, and it becomes obvious that a storage company needs to find a way to stay relevant. The market seemed to have bought into NetApp’s messaging in 2018, where their stock hit an all time high of $87.65. While the vision is there, investors might be feeling a little less confident now, with the stock price dipping fiercely after the last few earnings reports. They are currently trading at $56.21. Some of that mirrors overall fluctuation in the market, but the signal is clear, investors are not as bullish as they once were about NetApp.

NetApp has made some interesting announcements recently that I believe are a step in the right direction. They have launched a Kubernetes management service, as have many other companies in the last year, that is designed to work on all the major public clouds with on-premises “coming soon.” Why would NetApp create a Kubernetes management service? It seems like a weird thing for a storage, I’m sorry, Data Management company to do. The answer probably lies behind two prevailing forces.

  1. Engaging with developers is the best way to become sticky in the enterprise.
  2. Kubernetes is hard to deploy and manage, especially on-prem.

In regard to point one, you may have noticed that more and more companies are appealing directly to developers. That is because in many ways developers are helping to drive purchasing decisions at companies. With the realization that software development is a key indicator of company performance, many organizations are ready to heed the needs of their senior developers. It’s not just large enterprises though. Five person startups of today can become the tech giants of tomorrow. And of those five people, four are probably developers. Engaging with developers has been an extremely successful strategy for AWS, Azure, GCP, and others. Why do you think there are so many Developer Relationship Advocates? And I want to be clear, there is nothing wrong with this approach. As a non-developer, I do feel a bit left out in the cold, but that is my cross to bear.

Point two brings me to the next thing, the announcement of NetApp’s disaggregated HCI offering. The NetApp HCI is a hardware product offering that enables the independent scaling of compute and storage in an HCI cluster, while still maintaining the same management plane. You know what you might want to put on NetApp HIC? The forthcoming NetApp Kubernetes Service for on-premises. NetApp is certainly not the only company to throw their hat in the ring for managed K8s. VMware bought Heptio for exactly that reason.

Cloud Field Day Presentation

The promise of managed K8s is a promise of hybrid cloud, where you can deploy and run your application anywhere, and Ops can manage all of the K8s clusters from a single UI. That is the vision NetApp is trying to sell. Can they execute? We’ll see what they have to say at Cloud Field Day 6.


Dell Technologies

Dude, it’s a Dell! My first Windows laptop was a Dell. It ran Windows NT 3.5 and weighed about 10 pounds. That was back in 1998. I don’t think that is the Dell we are talking about here. I suspect that the Dell coming to CFD6 will be more from the Dell EMC side of the house. Although, and don’t take this the wrong way EMC, please leave your salespeople outside of the room. I’ve dealt with several sales reps from EMC over the years, and what I can say is the vast majority of them are aggressive, over-confident blowhards that love to trash talk on other vendor’s tech and make bold claims about their own tech without a scrap of whitepaper to back it up. You might think that salesperson archetype had waned post-merger, but I attended a VMUG lately with an EMC presentation, and that archetype is alive and well! I can tell you right now that the Tech Field Day crew is not going to put up with those shenanigans. It happened with a presenter at CFD3 – not going to name names – and the delegates picked him apart until he was visibly shaking with rage. Don’t bring that guy (or gal) to a CFD presentation, just don’t.

[ANYWAY]

Dell Technologies has so many products, I won’t even try to count them. It’s a pretty safe assumption that whatever Dell presents at Cloud Field Day will be at least tangentially related to cloud, but that’s about all I can say with any certainty. Dell has a majority stake in VMware, so they could talk about that. But I think they would rather have VMware present directly to the CFD crew, as they did in CFD5.

Dell makes a lot of hardware that could be used to build a private cloud, and that’s another direction they could steer the presentation. A few years ago, HPE took up the banner of composable infrastructure with their Synergy line of hardware. It’s a jazzed up blade chassis, although HPE was extremely reluctant to call it that. At least, they were reluctant until they realized that no one in enterprise IT had ANY idea what the heck composable was, and selling them on the concept was going to be a significant investment in marketing and sales “education.” Now they still talk about composable, and that nomenclature has become more prevalent, but they have also started pitching Synergy as the successor to the C7000 as well. Dell for their part, has introduced the PowerEdge MX blade chassis that also claims the same level of composability.

For me, the hardware war is kind of interesting from a purely technical standpoint, but from a business value standpoint it is… pointless. The real value of any of these platforms is either improving software deployment velocity or lowering administrative overhead. And those features are delivered through the management plane. An amazing hardware package with a terrible interface and management platform is a net negative for the Ops team. Maybe Dell is going to show all the private cloud options they have that are simple to manage and deploy.

Speaking of management, another major challenge for many organizations is the management of multiple clouds. There has a been a bit of a race by MSPs and vendors to create an all encompassing management platform that provides a marketplace, cost management, and security controls all from one console. Is that a market that Dell wants to get into? To a certain degree, the VMware products like Tanzu Mission Control and Cloud Foundation are meant to address these problems. But again that is a VMware product, and Dell is the one presenting.

There’s also a great team at Dell around the Azure Stack solution. I happen to know some of the people on the team, and they are a bunch of really sharp people that know their tech. Perhaps Azure Stack will be the big push.

Cloud Field Day Presentation

Honestly, there are so many products at Dell that could fill a niche in the world of cloud, I have no idea where they are going to go with their presentation. But I am excited to find out!


Cloud Field Day 6 is happening September 25-27. There will be live-streamed presentations from both of these vendors. If you’d like to join in with the conversation just use the #CFD6 hashtag on Twitter. All of the delegates will be watching that tag and asking questions on your behalf!

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