All Posts in “SolidFire”

Time to Pivot

“Opportunities multiply as they are seized” – Sun Tzu 

I get it quoting the Art of War is a bit cliche but it really fits my mood while writing this. The recent news about Verizon acquiring Yahoo got me on this kick because Yahoo failed to seize its opportunities. Yahoo had a chance to buy Google, and sell to Microsoft. Both would have been brilliant moves now that we look back at them with the 20/20 vision that is hindsight. At the time the strategy around such changes would have seemed very risky.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

By now you know how much I respect Simon Wardley and look towards using maps to plan strategy. I do this with just about every facet of work and career planning. When I joined SolidFire back in November I made a map and saw that move from EMC made a ton of sense SolidFire had huge upside and the job would be something I had never done before. A mix of challenge along with, the opportunity to work with a team of awesome people, and the promise of a software focused infrastructure solution met the criteria for a maturing storage company with huge upside. I was just late to the game as it appears that NetApp had seen similar benefits to what SolidFire could be. Two weeks after joining SolidFire the team was informed that the acquisition was imminent.

The process of acquisition was one I hadn’t fully experienced. NetApp was a big company and they had many processes and hoops that needed to be jumped through. When it was settled I finally got a chance to look at the inside of another big storage company.

Like EMC NetApp has a lot of really smart people working for them. Like EMC, NetApp talks about transformation.ike EMC, NetApp is looking to pivot from storage to the next generation data center solutions. SolidFire will be part of that solution, but what NetApp has to overcome is their legacy mentality and the success syndrome of “this has always worked before, why change”. Some of the best minds at NetApp haven’t been able to come to grips yet with the reality that storage, while relevant, isn’t the critical path that it once was. Too much time is spent talking about competition and not enough looking at how innovation can lead to success and what that next generation needs to look like.

This post isn’t about negativity though, I am sure that NetApp can still pivot and find it’s voice in the changing IT ecosystem. If it can find it’s voice internally that accepts change and sees the value in it’s competition and can speak to the value that NetApp can bring to it’s customers moving forward.

For me though the timing of all of this didn’t work out. For the last several years I have found myself talking about how this product or that helps bridge the gap from private to public cloud. The thought process that we all bought into was hybrid cloud is the future, I don’t know that my opinion has gone that far adrift from this, but what I do know is everytime I have talked about public cloud the names that come up are Amazon, Microsoft, other service providers in that order.

“To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.” – Sun Tzu

Back in May I started the ACloud.Guru AWS training course, what I have learned is that AWS is one of the most mature cloud solutions out there. I had played with the EC2 environment before with tying it into vRA but I had never taken the time to see the full expanse of available services. Honestly Amazon has thought of just about everything. An opportunity came available via a friend and former co-worker at Amazon to interview for the AWS DoD team, after going through what is perhaps the most grueling hiring process I have ever faced I was offered a position at Amazon. Part of the process is to give a presentation to the hiring team on  AWS service capabilities. Being the person I am, I also built a demo and performed a live demo as part of the presentation. It went well and I was offered a position as a Solutions Architect.

That brings me to the point of all of this I suppose. Effective August 1st I will be moving to the Amazon Web Services Federal team supporting the Department of Defense. The chance to stop competing against the leading cloud solution and finally be part of the revolution and move to public cloud was one I couldn’t pass on.

No one ever wants to admit defeat, and maybe my time at NetApp was not as successful as I would have liked. I wasn’t able to accomplish everything that I set out to do, I am sure the team that SolidFire has, will make a difference and I wish them the best in their pivot. Thank you to the Tech Solutions team and Aaron Delp for accepting me so openly and for helping me learn and grow. To the vCommunity at large it was so much fun the last couple of years presenting and getting to know all of you. I won’t be attending many VMUGs or vEvents for awhile as AWS has a different focus but stay in touch and I will keep posting about my experiences and what I am learning. The community is still small and we will all see each other around.

Is the beginning of the new NetApp diversification?

If you think about diversification within an investment portfolio, it becomes imperative. If you are leveraged too much in a single industry or company than you become imbalanced. Imbalance becomes risk very quickly, which is why diversification is so important. Diversification from a product company is also important, no one wants to run or work for a company that only has a single widget to sell, or only one customer to sell to, it’s far to risky. You then draw parallels with the hammer company analogy, if all you sell are hammers everything becomes a nail. I dislike that analogy in a lot of ways because it implies that sales people care more about themselves than doing right by their customers which while true of some isn’t true of the majority. The other issue is single product companies face issues with market saturation or market space losses when they can’t pivot to meet the new challenges that arise in their industry. Determining product release cycles or acquisition strategies to meet gaps and needs is an exercise in risk management. (WTH Mike are you trying to teach intro to economics?) No, no I am not, I am trying to work through some stuff.

NetApp is making a transition to a portfolio company, to do so you basically have to slog through a lot of mud to get there. There are several challenges to get to a true portfolio diversification, the first step is determining product line differentiation and swim lanes (woot woot PM lingo included). The reason you get your swim lanes in order is so you can help the field sales team position the portfolio around business use cases. Which is important because when you are dealing with portfolio through acquisition when you were previously competitors requires a re-programming of the corporate kool-aid. Organizationally you have folks that have gone whole hog and bleed the corporate approved hex colored blood, they have read the FUD docs on their newly acquired family members, and know how to position against them. The issue is now they have to see the value of this new tool in their toolbox and when it overlaps which solution makes more sense.

Part of this retraining is getting your head around what the industry looks like today, hence the Storage Archetypes posts, because you have to name something to know it. So we bucketize things and put a name to them so that we can begin to better understand where and why it fits someplace. Then we build onto that understanding the of what organizations need to do, essentially what are the problems that need to be solved. Once we get those laid out we can overlay based on our swim lanes which products with-in a portfolio cover which business needs.

There are so many data driven decisions that have to happen in this process, and it’s not always a clear decision. At EMC there was an approach of “eat your young” where if a product in the portfolio was succeeding more at one use case than another than the losing product’s business prop could be cannibalized by the newer successful product. But that doesn’t need to be the case, that is almost a forced reaction when there is too much product overlap. If the portfolio is more complementary and grown with forethought than there is less of a need for that. I believe the NetApp portfolio today has that forethought, yes there are still gaps that need to be addressed, and yes there is some overlap but I think it’s far more addressable than what I have witnessed in the past.

This week is NetApp’s SKO, this process will this week begin to bare its fruits, but there is still so much left to do. Both the education and re-education of the sales force will take time, the proof being born out that one solution has more fit for specific circumstances takes time. Time is not something the market likes to give, so there may appear to be missteps or overlap at first, it will get better. We will get better. We have to in order to be successful.

My sole request is that everyone be willing to open their minds from what they know, and be willing to listen and learn about the new paradigm and the new capabilities that the new NetApp can bring. Transformation is the life of IT, we have to push forward and change, it’s time for NetApp to transform into a true portfolio company.

Storage Archetypes Part Deux

So we previously established that we see 5 different storage architectures from a broad sense.

1) Storage Islands
2) Scale Up, Dual controller, add shelves for capacity, stuck on performance
3) Scale Up, Hub & Spoke
4) Scale Out, add storage AND capacity linearly as needed
5) Bring your own Platform (BYOP)

So who falls where and why?

Here again is my take, I am open to anyone commenting and I am willing to change this designation if valid cases are made. Also note some are listed under multiple categories, not everything fits in nice buckets so easily, but I did try.

1) Storage Islands – Netapp E-series, EMC DSSD, Data Gravity,

2) Scale Up, Dual controller, add shelves for capacity, stuck on performance – NetApp AFF, EMC VNX, Dell Compellent, Dell Equallogic, Pure FlashArray

3) Scale Up, Hub & Spoke – EMC XtremeIO, EMC VMAX, Nutanix, Atlantis USX Appliance

4) Scale Out, add storage AND capacity linearly as needed – NetApp SolidFire SF Arrays, EMC Isilon, Dell Equallogic

5) Bring your own Platform (BYOP) – NetApp SolidFire Element X, VMware VSAN, EMC ScaleIO, OpenStack Ceph, Atlantis USX SW, PernixData

So what do you think?

Edits: Moved Equallogic to Scale Out per a conversation on twitter 4/25/16