Pittsburgh, Spinnaker and roads not taken.
I have to go to Pittsburgh today to visit some customers. I used to go to Pittsburgh quite often before NetApp purchased Spinnaker networks. A few years ago Zerowait helped Spinnaker with its early ideas about marketing their products to certain niche markets. Our engineers traveled to Pittsburgh to meet with Mike Kazar’s team, and the Spinnaker folks visited our offices and were very interested in gaining entry into our larger accounts to talk to our customers about their products. This was all occurring near the time that NetApp was taking all of Zerowait’s largest and best Filer accounts and making them into direct accounts for NetApp’s sales department. I recall that our NetApp reseller manager told us that it was too expensive to have a reseller on the bigger accounts, once we had established the accounts NetApp figured they could make more money without us. In hindsight, it was a interesting twist of events when Spinnaker was sold to NetApp, because we really thought Spinnaker was going to be a viable alternative to NetApp for Zerowait’s customers that NetApp had taken away from us. But it did not turn out that way. And in another interesting turn of events, our customers that NetApp took direct had their service and support prices raised almost immediately by NetApp. These were among the customers who asked us to create an affordable third party support organization to support their filers once our affiliation with NetApp had ended. They became our first independent service and support customers for Network Appliance products, and many of them are still our customers.
The Spinnaker technology was way ahead of its time, in a similar way to the Pick Operating System back in the 1980’s. Being absorbed by NetApp was probably good for the VC’s involved in Spinnaker, but it left a void in the marketplace – which is still unfilled. Our engineers felt certain that the AFS based Spinnaker was a superior platform for ‘grid storage’ when compared to the BSD based Ontap platform. Whether NetApp was able to shoehorn the AFS capabilities into Ontap will be seen as the market absorbs the technology. Can the Spinnaker Technology Turbocharge Ontap? I doubt that the new NetApp OS will provide all of the possibilities that the Spinnaker technology would have provided. But time, experience and marketing dollars will ultimately answer these questions.
Zerowait was forced to take the road toward independent legacy service, support and maintenance of NetApp equipment. At the time there was not the option of traveling both the road of third party support and new NetApp sales. There was a divergence in the paths, and Zerowait took the road less traveled, and it has made all the difference.
With homage to Robert Frost….