back to article The blandness – or madness – of King George of NetApp

So you are King George Kurian of NetApp and it’s your first day on the Iron Throne vacated by your ousted predecessor, Tom Georgens. You summon your courtiers, ask them what they see and why Tom G had to go - and then you decide what you see. What do you see? You see that the board put you in place and they can fire you as …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    company's a mess

    Company's a mess.

    Product line is a mess

    Market's moving away from NetApp

    Technology is not adapting well to the virtual era

    Customers don't see NetApp as viable when it comes to SSD-based designs

    ...but CEO cannot say this as he has his stock holders to consider (and likely his stock options).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: company's a mess

      Issues with netapp are deeper than product and are deeply rooted to the company's prideful, to a fault, culture.

      Here's what's wrong with netapp today and why the company may need someone from outside to lead it:

      1) Many chiefs and pseudo-visionaries

      2) Resistance to change because "it's always been done this way"

      3) Diminishing technical skills (see #1)

      4) Sense of entitlement; "We invented XYZ therefore nobody can do it better than us"

      5) "Not invented here" syndrome

      6) Too much patting on the back celebrating things most people don't care much for

      7) Ownership without accountability

      8) A company of sacred cows

      There are different types of CEOs. Netapp needs to decide which one it needs first;

      Sustainer: A CEO who will take over and continue with the same strategy as his predecessor

      Builder: A CEO you will run a small company and grow it

      Turnarounder: A CEO who will take over a company with life threatening issues will make significant changes, rock the boat and attempt to fix

      Fixer: A CEO who will take over a company that is experiencing challenges, will make a few specific changes, will not rock the boat and for the most part will continue the previous strategy.

      Netapp is a company in trouble. It's not in dire straits but needs to figure out quickly if the current CEO is the right person. After all, in order to fix a company you first need to have experience in "fixing" and you need to have done it before.

  2. mlinett

    Release OnTap Classic

    NetApp has a loyal customer base and a great operating system in OnTap 7 mode. If they listen to their customers and do what the customers want they can rebuild their damaged brand. The cost of migration is high to cDot or an alternative vendor's storage system. NetApp's management should realize that supporting and providing continuous improvement to OnTap 7 mode makes sense to a substantial number of their customers. Additionally, there are a number of clients that need the features and benefits of cDot.

    All companies make mistakes; great companies learn from them and improve. A company that provides products and services that empower the customer will prosper over the long term. Why not support OnTap Classic and cDot, if that satisfies your customers?

  3. Tom Maddox Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    "Do you have an ONTAP courtier who steps aside from the rest and diffidently suggests that ONTAP Edge – the ONTAP-V product turning a server’s direct-attached storage into a virtual SAN – could actually become a real EVO: RAIL system, that NetApp could make an EVO: RAIL template like its FlexPod scheme?"

    For the love of god, this. There's a mountain of potential locked up in OnTAP Edge, but the 10 TB limit is a show-stopper for use in core storage deployments or even reasonably sizable branch deployments. With software-defined storage on the rise, NetApp has a huge opportunity to appeal to the NetApp faithful, who might want to leverage familiar technology and features without deploying additional physical appliances, and to new potential customers, who see the appeal of the technology but who want to avoid the physical hardware footprint in the first place. As mentioned in the article, it would also enable a hyper-converged play with a richer feature set than Nutanix or Simplivity. Unfortunately, NetApp seems wedded to the idea of selling boxes rather than decoupling hardware from software, and that model seems to be less sustainable in the current market than it used to be.

  4. James 100

    Safety

    "Is safety-first the right approach?"

    No. I don't mind if my data occasionally disappears in a puff of error codes. Er, wait...

    The tough migration path is a big mistake I think: just like I faced a few years ago with a Windows SBS 2003 server. With no upgrade option (can't just upgrade it in-place to 2008, because that's 64 bit only and 2003 is 32 bit only) we were faced with "Need to migrate to something new anyway, and buy new hardware if it's on-premises ... might as well switch to hosted email then". So, of course, there's now one less MS Exchange installation in the world.

    That, for MS, was a rare exception: normally, it's a smooth upgrade treadmill, just the way they want it. "Yes, the new version's expensive/difficult, but not as expensive/difficult as moving to a whole new platform, so go on..." Storage isn't part of my problem these days, but we do have a few 7mode NetApps holding almost everything - and I get the impression NetApp really dropped the ball there.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not Impressed

    So here's my point of view. 10 years ago I worked at Cisco in the content networking business unit, which at the time was headed up by George. Around 2004, we were faced with a choice. 1) Evolve our traditional demand caching product to support compression of generic TCP traffic on a protocol-independent basis. Riverbed was new in the market and was doing this; we were not. We needed to do some innovation and catch up. 2) Do an acquisition. This is what George opted for. So, we acquired Actona. The product was a CIFS-only caching product with no future, slow and buggy, mainly suitable for demos only. After a year or more of integration, hand wringing, and delay, we shipped it, and hardly anybody bought it. Then we started from scratch and built Cisco WAAS, which we should have started on 1.5y earlier than we did. It was OK for a v1 product, but then it was starved for investment -- too many competing priorities -- innovation of core technology not apparently being considered worthwhile, and after we shipped the first version, innovation mostly dried up, most of the engineers moved on, and Riverbed and others took the market.

    So, I am not impressed with George.

    Fast forward to the present. At present there are perhaps half a dozen or more data storage-centric startups having market caps of a billion dollars or more, some much more. (Full disclosure: I have investments in some of these.) Where do you think this market cap is coming from? For all of these startups, one of the primary competitors is Netapp. Competing against Netapp is like shooting fish in a barrel.

    So, for his benefit and mine, I hope the NTAP board keeps George on for as long as he can manage it.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's A Racial Thing

    Let me be completely politically incorrect and insensitive; but it happended to me. I came into NetApp as part of the Topio acquisition (based in Haifa Isreal); senior management treated us royally; at least in words. But the engineers treated us like we had leprosy, ... a case of not invented here. Two camps evolved; the Isreali's and the Indians, and the engineering teams were referred to by those names. The Topio engineering team was starved for money and engineers redeployed to another project.

    Then the real fighting starrted; the Indians resented having their designs critqued by the Isrealis. The Isreali's once identified that the Indian originated designs wouldn't scale. Eventually the Indians won thier arguments and the Haifa Isreal engineering center was shutdown and the product put to death.

    The Hafia engineers went on to found companies like XtremIO, ScaleIO, and Maxta. The irony is that EMC evaluated Topio for purchase, but opted to buy Kashya instead. But EMC recognized the talent and evenutally bought XtremIO and ScaleIO and the engineering teams.

    Meanwhile NetApp buys the E-Series, pedestrian low-end technology and still can't figure out how to integrate the Spinnaker technology.

    RIP NetApp, we loved you once, but you treated us badly. What's happening now is what the Indian's would call ... Karma. Sorry guys.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Karma

    Karma indeed.

    I was treated hideously by NetApp and despite protesting my position on numerous occasions, had no option but to vote with my feet as management's response was 'meh' and a shrug of the shoulders. The best places to work awards are just complete nonsense and, quite frankly, were merely a PR exercise with nothing meaningful behind it.

    I now compete with NetApp and am enjoying considerable success I might add against FAS. In the end you reap what you sow and if you treat employees badly, dont be surprised if they compete that little bit harder against you when they finally decide that enough is enough.

  8. nilfs2
    Stop

    Forget about selling iron

    The days of selling iron by the pound with huge margins are over, NetApp never had a diferentiator when it came to hardware, the software is what made the diference, they should focus on ONTAP-V/Edge and forget the hardware.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Forget about selling iron

      Like it...

      I think you are onto something. You're spot on with your HW eval. When I was there, product management prided themselves on their hardware cost savings philosophy; never come out with bleading edge technology, wait until commodization and price drops before you adopt. I think they were one of the last Alpha chip customers when the rest of the world had long ago gone Intel.

      Engineering did their development running ONTAP as a vm and once upon a time customers could download a virtual edition with 6x/30G volumes to keep customers from running as production.

      So all NetApp need do is fire all of the HW & manufacturing engineers, cancel thier manufacturing contracts with Foxconn and sell ONTAP as Software Defined Storage...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Forget about selling iron

        That's exactly what they need to do and then they can sit back and watch their revenue go from 5bln to zero overnight.

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