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NetApp sets its sights on cloud data management: A Q&A with CEO Tom Georgens

John Dix | July 22, 2014
NetApp's CEO provides his take on the changes in the cloud computing world

 Moving virtual servers around a hybrid cloud environment isn't hard, but managing the data is. That's why NetApp wants to be "the enterprise data-management standard across the enterprise," says CEO Tom Georgens. Network World Editor in Chief John Dix recently caught up with Georgens to get his take on what changes in the cloud computing world.

NW:  You announced a cloud strategy late last year so why don't we start with an update on what cloud means to NetApp.

TG: The cloud could be a ten-hour conversation, but to distill it down, I think customers are wrestling with the role of the cloud. We all get Software-as-a-Service. And certainly we see workloads that are temporary or changing in nature that could use access to infrastructure that you can use on demand and then unwind. That transient capability is something that just can't be emulated with on-premise computing. And we see use cases with very, very low utilization, where data wouldn't be stored if it weren't the cloud. And things like archiving and backup, where you see cloud as a repository, those use cases make a lot of sense as well. But on the other hand, cloud is not a panacea. Leaving aside things like performance and security, the cloud is not that flexible and is not that inexpensive.

A CEO said to me recently, "Nobody goes to the cloud for price." I found myself coming to the defense of Amazon, but his point was that, given the transaction orientation and the bandwidth requirements of his workloads, the economics of doing it himself were far better. Twenty four hours later I was at a SaaS vendor that is half in the cloud and half on-premise, and they said they need to move on premise because of the economics.

So I think there are workloads where it is compelling, where it offers a set of capabilities that can't possibly be matched on premise. But there are other workloads that are problematic from an economic point of view, or where security is the concern. It's inevitable that enterprises, for a very long period to come, are going to have some combination of on-premise and off-premise computing. The hybrid cloud is going to be the dominant model here.

The real challenge, then, is how do you enable customers to create a seamless extension of what they do on-premise, so when they go to the cloud they don't have to run different sets of data management tools. That is, if I can move my apps from on-premise to the cloud and back, how do I make the data management seamless?

Since data management is the hardest problem, NetApp wants to be the enterprise data-management provider. NetApp's value proposition is primarily the software. We already manage data on other people's hardware, and we sell systems bundled with our software and also unbundle the software. We have a version of our product that basically allows access to the elastic compute of an Amazon or a Microsoft, while letting you maintain control of your data, and you can expect to see us offer more tools that even more closely integrate with the cloud.


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