This piece was originally published to Forbes AdVoice.
Innovation is the lifeblood of any technology company. As Dave Hitz likes to say, tech companies must regularly reinvent themselves. It’s hard, but necessary if you’re to stay relevant in an industry where change is the only constant.
I’m thrilled that Forbes has cited NetApp as one of world’s most innovative companies. Thrilled, but not satisfied. Being an innovator means you can never afford to be satisfied.
It’s my belief that high-tech companies are only as innovative as those customers who push, prod and otherwise move us beyond our comfort zone. Every year, we honor them with our own innovation award. They’ve made us smarter and faster – in short, better – than we ever could have imagined we could be.
Our salespeople nominated 200 customers, a record for us. A select group chose the winners. It wasn’t easy.
This year’s winners come from both the public and private sectors, and industries as different as healthcare and cosmetics. They have one thing in common: they are boundary breakers. And to serve them well, has often meant testing our technology in ways that we could never have anticipated.
Probably our most remarkable customer story is that of the SOFTBANK Group, which faced the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. At the time, SOFTBANK was only partway through a cloud conversion, but it turned on free cloud service for non-profits, government agencies and existing customers in just three days. As Dave Hitz would later say, rolling out technology that has yet to be fully tested would be, in most circumstances, crazy.
But computing power was desperately needed to coordinate rescue efforts so SOFTBANK acted. The technology, including NetApp’s storage system, proved up to the challenge. It was tested in ways no one – us included – could ever have expected.
Another way we stay relevant is to be our own most demanding customer. The industry term for this is “eating your own dog food.” At NetApp, we like to think of it as “drinking our own champagne.”
Last quarter, we were the first to test a number of new technologies, all while maintaining the primary goal of any IT shop – do no harm to critical services.
Next quarter, we’ll deliver our new Agile Data Infrastructure into three of our U.S. data centers. At the same time, we’ll roll out a version to Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Bangalore, and Sydney so that by the end of the next quarter, NetApp IT will be globally standardized on the new technology. We use our experiences – both good and bad – to influence product development and support, and services to the benefit of all our customers.
Agile Data Infrastructure is our latest attempt at reinvention. It is based on the idea that data must become an “infrastructure”, in the way that networking did. Once upon a time, CIOs worried about routers and switches. IT heads, like myself, expect their network to outlast the lifespan of their individual pieces. The network becomes “immortal” to again quote Dave Hitz.
MIT Fellow Michael Schrage argues that truly great companies foster innovation in their customers by helping them create new capabilities that, in turn, offer new and greater market opportunities. I’m excited to see how our customers stretch, bend and otherwise challenge our new technology in ways that I could never have dreamed of.