As we entered into the new financial year, NetApp senior vice president and general manager of EMEA, Alex Wallner set out the vision over the next 12 months.
Seeking a dominance in hybrid multicloud, NetApp will be encouraging strategies that scale and increase the usage of the cloud with as little friction as possible.
Wallner doesn’t lack awareness when it comes to the position of NetApp in the market. With datacentres and storage increasingly migrating to the Cloud, the EMEA GM acknowledged the need to embrace different technologies adding “To be honest, what we see is that the money is moving away from storage and datacentre infrastructure.
“When we talk to our biggest customers, they have less and less budget, the market now it is like the stock market; the money is not gone, it’s just somewhere else. We have to face some things, those are applications and movements that are meaningful to our end customers and get a lot of the budget share as it is squeezed out of the classical infrastructure.
“If we do not move and do not adapt to these trends we are in trouble and, after discussing with our end customers, we have decided there are four components where the money moves: enterprise applications, a DevOps structure that customers want to integrate, a proper cloud strategy and AI and machine learning.”
The latter in that list is one area where NetApp is focussing attention. With businesses now beginning to recognise the value of the data they collect on their customers, along with that, comes a necessity to store that information securely.
“These projects are driven in different maturity levels but we need to find people who take care of them and then we have to have a discussion about data because if it is business critical data you are working on, you need a hybrid cloud concept for that.
“You have massive performance requirements because you can’t spend an insane amount of money on media components but have the storage slow you down. Our technology enables customers to do whatever they want with data. It goes from collecting the data from wherever it comes from, so you can put our software on an edge device, a fridge, a car, you can collect the data, you can store the data on our device, and you can move the data to the cloud.
“If you see an end to end process with an AI engine you can easily, with our data architecture, collect the data to feed the AI engine. You can store the critical data you need for that AI engine on premise on your data centre and for analytics reasons you can move your data to the cloud.”
The move to embrace artificial intelligence is in preparation for the growth in adoption. However, Wallner is under no illusion that adoption in the wider market is still at an experimental phase and drew parallels to cloud.
“Honestly speaking, different customers have different maturity levels and it is an interesting market. We’ve just signed our first reference around AI with the medical University of Hannover. It is not easy to sign references for AI because AI projects usually describe the crown jewels of the company.
“There are projects that are real, but I would say that 95% of customers are still testing the water in the cloud at the moment. Google Tensorflow is a typical playing field, but the reality will be that more ‘real AI’ will be business critical data which will require hybrid functionality and need the capability to have data also on premise in case your regulator doesn’t allow data in the cloud.
“As data experts, with us you can move the data around between cloud and on premise environments how you want it. This is where it becomes a project. We have maybe three or four handfuls of projects at the moment, all of them with our strongly aligned partner Nvidia.
“There are massive performance requirements for on premise and cloud environments but these are fun projects and the reality is that, today it is four handfuls of projects but it will be hundreds of projects in two or three years from now and that is why we massively lean into that.”
Lack of trust and questions around what happens when data is inaccessible surround the cloud still. Despite the growth seen by AWS and Wallner’s own admission that the appetite for physical infrastructure is shrinking, he said that there will always be a need for on premise data centres and storage.
Wallner also pointed to the NetApp operating system which has provided an alternative to the common cloud systems that are yet to gain the industry’s trust.
“The biggest fear for the end customers in the cloud is the vendor locking the cloud. In the early days and the early years of the cloud, businesses were wary of putting data into Amazon, Amazon converting it into a propriety data format and in order to get it back, that data is in a format that they cannot work with anymore and they get locked into Amazon.
“What we do is we take the gravity of the data away, so you have the same data format as Amazon, Google, Alibaba, Azure, on premise in your datacentre, or in the local service provider you still want to keep engaged and you can move the data around.
“Now you can say if the customer deploys 100TB in Azure it is Azure storage, if it deployed on premise it is NetApp storage, but that is a key differentiator compared to our competitors that we have that capability. Yes, we are losing storage to the providers in the customer space, but we win big time against our competitors because we offer that freedom of choice to the end customers.”
“Our technology enables customers to do whatever they want with data. You can collect the data from wherever it comes from, you can store the data on our device, and you can move the data to the cloud.”Alex Wallner, senior vice president and general manager of EMEA, NetApp
In 2018 NetApp saw a 90 per cent increase in the indirect EMEA business as well as signing up nigh on 1,000 new companies.
However despite the success, Wallner unveiled plans to close offices in several European locations and instead focus “massive” investment into UK, French and German arms of the business who collectively account for 65 per cent of the NetApp buying power in the region.
“The idea is to win new workloads in existing customers and win new logos in these countries. If you look at the market share in the UK, we have about half the market share that we have compared to Germany.
“There are a lot of customers to win. This means growing into the existing customers, expanding and landing into new customers and there are so many weapons. There are customers who are huge Netapp customers but have never purchased a single piece of iron from us, it’s just software, so it is almost impossible that a customer does not need us somewhere. We just have to deal with that and talk the right language that the customer understands and we are there.”
When pressed for UK-specific information, the EMEA general manager only disclosed that the UK would see a recruitment of 20 to 30 people.
Wallner did say that the decision was not taken lightly and that, although a physical presence may not remain for much longer, NetApp will not be pulling business from other European countries altogether.
He added “I think these are good moves and we are not the only ones in the landscape who do these kinds of moves but the expectation is that we stay a profitable and high performing business.
“If I want to spend a tremendous amount of money, I have to save it somewhere else and that is the move. I am super committed in the market we operate in, the UK is a key market for me personally and for the team.”