Phil Brotherton Clears Away Any “Fog” Around NetApp’s Cloud Strategy

Recently we sat down with Phil Brotherton, NetApp’s VP of Cloud Solutions, to talk about the cloud and IT today. We wanted to get his perspective amid an industry filled with buzz and conversation around the future of cloud.

There is no hotter topic in IT today than cloud it seems. Customers are in transition looking for answers, they are consuming IT in different ways. How is NetApp’s cloud strategy evolving in 2014?

Phil Brotherton: Cloud is topical with enterprises and organizations of all sizes and we are deeply involved in these conversations along with our partners. To be clear, NetApp’s strategy remains unchanged and is focused on customers evolving needs for data control in a hybrid cloud world. As a refresher, NetApp’s strategy is to help customers embrace the cloud by using the world’s number one storage operating system, Data ONTAP™, as a universal data platform across clouds. Data ONTAP software will enable dynamic data portability across all clouds and will support extensive customer choice for application, technology, and cloud partner options. This is a competitive differentiator for NetApp and a key value point for customers moving to hybrid cloud environments today.

Let’s take a step back, what is happening with data today that is making data management in the cloud surprisingly challenging and complex?

PB: It is quite simple in fact. Data is a physical and stateful thing. It can be heavy, cumbersome and hard to move. It also must be protected and controlled with increasing care. For example, large data transfers can take days, even weeks. You don’t want to move it very often and you don’t want to move it very far. Now more than ever, data needs to be carefully managed across different “boundaries,” without losing control. Data is extremely valuable and personal, but it is also extremely cumbersome.

The ability to instantly access mission-critical data creates both opportunity and risk in a cloud deployment. How efficiently and effectively an organization is able to tap, parse and derive intelligence from data is now more critical than ever before. By logical extension, an organization’s ability to restrict access and protect that data is equally important.

In order to best manage data’s value, some IT organizations are moving away from being the builders and maintainers of data centers themselves and becoming brokers of services for their customers.. As a result, there are now many new service providers and vendors competing to meet these needs.

There is talk in the industry about the commoditization of data storage today given cloud, what is your perspective?

PB: NetApp believes that at a time of change, customers value choice, experience solving their hardest problems. We also believe they will embrace the cloud vendors that provide truly new and value added services. That’s why we are betting strongly that our data platform run on the best service providers around the world. In many ways, this means an expansion of our long focus on the service providers of the world that caused us to reach #1 storage platform for cloud and extend that to the hyperscalers, with their massively scalable and globally elastic computing, networking, and storage platforms. We know enterprise will use hyperscale computing when it helps them innovate and grow. We also know those customers can benefit from the value-added capabilities that NetApp storage offers on top of those platforms. So, the short answer to the question is no, I don’t think enterprise storage and data management is getting commoditized. In fact, I see more opportunities than ever for NetApp to innovate for our customers.

Let me get into that in a little more detail.  First, NetApp is here to stay. The cloud transition creates opportunities for us to help organizations effectively manage the brokering process. We need to make the cloud consumable by our customer base. Essentially, the company that does this is going to win the data management battle. We are as well-positioned to do that as any vendor.

NetApp has the broadest ecosystem of cloud providers, application and technology partner options, enabling our customers to build hybrid cloud environments that best fit their organizations.

What specifically makes NetApp’s cloud strategy unique? What is the real differentiation for NetApp today as everyone gets into the cloud game somehow?

PB: We are taking an alternate approach to our competition. We are not looking to compete head on with the cloud providers, meaning we are not going to compete with hyperscale cloud companies like Amazon or Microsoft. We're going to make it easier for our customers to use hyperscale services and integrate them into their hybrid cloud. That is real innovation, not just creating another cloud service or solution.

Today, nobody is closer to addressing this challenge and making seamless data management across multi-cloud environments a reality than NetApp. Our goal is to become the architecture of choice for hybrid cloud.

Can you give some specific examples of how different industries are considering the cloud today?

PB: Customers want to take advantage of infinite business capabilities enabled with hybrid cloud solutions, but the ability to maintain control of data across the cloud is not easy. Different industries are tacking the challenge in very unique ways.

Financial services firms need to maintain strict control of their data, wherever it resides. To implement a solid hybrid solution in the financial services world requires a way to safely extend the “digital walls” because regulation stipulates that data cannot leave the premises of the firm. But what “premises” means is something IT leaders are continuing to grasp. Financial services firms need unified data architectures to reduce complexity and connects disparate environments, making all of their data available everywhere.

Healthcare IT needs to approach its infrastructure design strategically; failing to do so, may mean the difference between life and death. The ideal solution will need to allow data to be moved and managed seamlessly across multiple environments, improve responsiveness and access, and meet critical service levels quickly, securely, and reliably.  For example, a hybrid cloud infrastructure can allow healthcare providers to manage data seamlessly across IT environments – from the doctor’s workstation to the data center to the cloud. It will also enable providers to better respond to growing data requirements instantly without disruption to critical applications or physicians.

Service providers are another group of customers that are using the cloud to propel their business needs in new ways. They need service-oriented infrastructure to provide agility in their business offerings to their customers. With the pace of business today and changing end user demands, service providers need to continuously accelerate time to market with differentiated and profitable cloud-based services.