Beyond Unified: NetApp's Continued Evolution

In this second installment of a three-part series spotlighting NetApp's 20 years of innovation, I reflect on the evolution of NetApp and unified storage. NetApp led the industry a decade ago in in coining the term "unified storage," but today unified alone is no longer sufficient – and NetApp is once again leading the way forward.



Awsome post.

It's alright to look back, however I don't agree with NetApp leading unified storage.  I do agree NetApp’s products have steadily evolved and are in step with major competitors.  We chose NetApp’s solution based on product maturity, reputation in the industry, and by recommendation from our storage vendor.

However, NetApp’s challenge is not on the hardware front.  It’s with NetApp software.  In fact, NetApp is lagging very badly on the software front which puts many questions to why I, and many others, would invest so much on NetApp software.

In gross summarization, the software is difficult to use, not intuitive to learn, and there are too many products needed to integrate to get the 360 view point that is needed.  Additionally, the perceived abandoning of OSSV, confusion around SyncSort’s purpose, and a real lack of integrated cohesion between the Operations Manager, Protection Manager, and Snap Manager products.

Our reliance on the software is supposed to drive reliance and growth dependency on the hardware.  This isn’t the case.  Why?  You have NetApp sales and engineering people saying things like, “We just don’t have customers that leverage the entire NetApp software suite like you do…” Really?  Is that a validation to not use NetApp software?

Where it stands today is OnCommand is partly functional.  Many features do not work and lack depth.  So many workarounds to achieve the very things the junior competitors already have and have done for many years, like simple alerting.  Modular is ok.  Only if it is tightly coupled.  It’s neither today.

My perception is these issues do not getting the attention of senior leadership.  Or you’re not being told the truth, Dave.  Because if they did… I know you’d be driving a hard line to get OnCommand truly unified by end of 2012.  Innovation should include not just next generation features, but user interface and usability.

This is the message needs to be sent to the senior leadership.  Your missing out on major opportunities to win hearts and minds by continuing on this path.  I want to be excited about NetApp storage.  I want to be a champion for NetApp.  I cannot be in its current state.

A concerned NetApp customer.


Jonathan, Thank you for the empassioned comment.  You obviously have a great deal of experience with NetApp products, and we want to keep you excited about them.  Your comments touched upon a lot of different areas, and I will reply on the areas that I can.  As you must have picked up in Dave's blogs, the company have evolved and grown quite a bit over the past 20 years, so it's a big place with many teams now contributing to our product set.  "Software" for instance isn't a single effort -- it's the outcome of at least 3 different business groups, so we all do our best to solve customer problems and remain corrdinated.  Let me at least address a few specific issues which you've brought up, and I'll offer where we can get you answers for the others:

  • "...the software is difficult to use, not intuitive to learn" -- Within the Managability group, we've made a big investment in Usability, with a team of specialists that design and visualize interfaces, conduct user research to test them, and work with the product and engineering teams to get effective interfaces developed.  Newer products like System Manager 2.x reflect this new level of usability, and older products are being revved with this same attention to UX along with a common graphic interface.
  • "lack of integrated cohesion between the Operations Manager, Protection Manager..." -- We recently launched the OnCommand Unified Manager that brings together these seperate products, Operations, Protection and Provisioning Managers under a single common dashboard, to directly address this issue you've brought out.  We are really working on integrating our products where they are being used by the same admin in order to maximize thier efficiency.  You'll see more of this product consolidation continuing through 2013 and beyond.
  • "...get OnCommand truly unified by end of 2012."  -- Here I can say that we are doing just this with the OnCommand Unified Manager 6.x effort, which is targeted for next calendar year, with the Beta to begin later this year.  Along with monitoring, provisioning and protection, you'll also see a next-generation of Performance management within a common platform that will enable an intelligent infrastructure. As an experienced user, it would be great to get your input if you care to join the beta program.

And that is where I can say the next step is.  I can field your follow-up questions, as I know I haven't answered everything.  My email is  And I'm happy to get you in contact with peers from other teams that are also creating the future of our software: the ONTAP team, Data Protection team, Solutions and Integrations, etc.  Thank you again for sharing your passion, and your honest feedback.  Please work with us to develop the products you want to see.

Mike Harding

OnCommand Product Team


Hi Jonathan,

To add to Mike Harding’s comments, this blog I wrote depicts an OnCommand System Manager video demonstration that shows how easy it is to view different types of information (e.g.  space used, space available) about a particular volume in a Vserver, turn on thin provisioning and deduplication per volume, and then move a volume nondisruptively within a NetApp cluster.   Hope this helps some and thanks for your feedback.  Regards, Mike McNamara

I agree with Jonathan's comments. It seems like the tact taken by NetApp these days is to maintain the  silos that were established back in the day to serve a particular need -- even if there is an unified interface. A good example of this is the treatment of vfilers in your management stack. I know you guys are moving to some sort of new model (Vserver) with your c-mode, but that's not applicable to the install base.

Mike's comment that this require coordination across different groups means nothing to me as an end-user. I understand the challenges of legacy development teams and the egos that go with them. But if Dave is thinking about reinvention at the 1000 feet level, I am hoping someone else is thinking about reinvention of the products and features and doing so faster than the pace Dave talks about ...

'After a couple of hours on the firing line, Ford's engineers got defensive. Interrupting the testers, they started airing their side of the story in front of the new boss. Sensing that the meeting was deteriorating, Mulally says he handed each one a pad and pen. "You know what? Let's just listen and take notes," he said. The episode was a perfect illustration of what Mulally considers one of Ford's major problems: the tendency of employees to rationalize mistakes instead of fixing them. "We seek to be understood more than we seek to understand," he observes.'