Chuck Hollis of EMC on NetApp marketing techniques.
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NetApp: Bad Marketing vs. Good Marketing

All is fair in love, war and marketing. Or is it?

Do we, as vendors, have a responsibility to our customers and the marketplace that when we make a claim, that it is generically true, and customers get the benefit we promise?

I believe so.

I believe so strongly, in fact, that I’m taking it upon myself to call out others who may not subscribe to this particular world view.


If you promise a customer that your solution is more cost effective, it shouldn’t end up being more expensive. If you say your solution is simpler, it should not be more complex than what it replaces. If you say its high availability, it should be. If you claim superior performance, that is what it should deliver. And so on.

Deliver on the promise: Good Marketing

Fail to deliver on the promise, or deliver the opposite: Bad Marketing

A few weeks ago, I took the gloves off on a particularly egregious example of Bad Marketing, where NetApp had pushed the limits of benchmarketing too far; to the point where it could probably result in the exact opposite of what was promised.

That’s bad for customers, and bad for the industry.

Now, to be clear, I have no problem with head-to-head competition. I welcome it. It makes all of us in the vendor world better, and it ultimately benefits customers. And I love the rough-and-tumble, he-said-she-said world of IT marketing. It’s fun.

But clear misrepresentation – in spirit, if not in fact – is where we should all draw the line.

Today, I’m going to go a bit further on NetApp on some of their other marketing claims. Not because I don’t welcome an aggressive competitor (I do, believe me), but I cringe when I find people actually believe what they’re saying, and get hurt in the process.

Seductive Claim #1 – NetApp Is Simpler

This is very sexy, at least on the surface.

The premise is that – because NetApp has one primary operating system (ONTAP), and one generic hardware architecture (dual controller storage), that customers can serve all their storage needs with a single, compatible family, saving considerable operational expense.

Damn, that sounds great. Doesn’t it?

Now, if I’m a smaller shop, and my requirements aren’t that demanding, I’d give NetApp the benefit of the doubt. I certainly have met smaller customers who could conceivably run their entire shop on NetApp if they limit what they do.

But let’s look at the facts. There are tens of thousands of customers who’d never consider putting a critical database on an emulated SAN device like NetApp – it’d kill their performance. What happens when a small customer needs that capability, and has to put something different in to do that job?

The simplicity promise is now gone.

Or maybe their environment grows and they find they need more powerful SRM tools, which NetApp doesn’t provide. Or perhaps they find shortcomings in remote replication, or other areas.

Bring in other stuff, and the promise is broken.

As an example, all NetApp customers are now being “strongly encouraged” into a very disruptive upgrade to ONTAP 7G. Usually, there’s new hardware involved, and it involves substantial downtime, unless you use something clever like Rainfinity.

Now, certainly NetApp isn’t the only storage vendor that does this to customers, but it goes right against NetApp’s promise of “simplicity”.

Are there any meaningful performance tuning tools in ONTAP? Not really, that would add complexity. Want to do VTL? That’s a different NTAP storage platform. Want to do encryption? Decru isn’t integrated. Want to do CDP? That’s Topio, also unintegrated.

Nothing wrong with any of these things, really. Other than NetApp promised simplicity, and most customers end up with complexity. And that’s Bad Marketing, in my book.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

Seductive Claim #2 – NetApp Uses Less Storage

NetApp gets to this claim two ways.

First, they point to thin provisioning as using less storage. Actually, thin provisioning helps solve certain poor storage management practices that are common in IT (see here for more info) but comes with its own – ahem – complexity.

And thin provisioning is not unique to NetApp – if after evaluating the pros and cons, you want to do thin provisioning, there are lots of vendors (including EMC) who can do that for you.

Second, they point to a low-overhead snap capability that doesn’t actually make the second copy until it’s written to. Nice trick, but also available from other vendors, including EMC. And, of course, there are pros and cons with different use cases when this would make sense, and when it wouldn’t. It’s not a panacea, and it’s not unique.

Nothing wrong with having competitive features compared to other vendors. But to claim that you use less storage than the other guys basd on these claims simply isn’t true, and isn’t supported by the evidence.

I would offer that, in our experience, exactly the opposite is true, in two ways.

First, as many people have noticed (and I’ve pointed out) the only reasonable way to address a performance problem on a NetApp filer is to add more unused storage. When we get called in to solve a performance problem on NetApp, we usually notice that the customer has taken this step, and is using much more storage than would otherwise be needed, simply to present more spindles to ONTAP and WAFL.

Second, EMC has built a nice practice of going into large NetApp shops, running some simple analysis, and showing customer by either deleting or archiving the gorp that’s sitting on their filers, they can use 40-70% less storage.

Put differently, because NetApp doesn’t offer the tools or the practices to do this to their customers, we find that unmanaged NetApp shops use far more storage for file storage than is usually required.

Now, these are not bad things by themselves, but a claim was made for a benefit, and the exact opposite is usually true.

Once again, Bad Marketing in action.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

Seductive Claim #3 – NetApp is the Preferred Choice for Oracle

After reviewing some of the NetApp marketing materials, you’d think that Oracle wouldn’t be able to run on anything else. I run the alliances group at EMC, so I have a bit of an insider perspective on this.

NetApp spends big bucks every year sponsoring Oracle Open World. Well over a million dollars a year, I believe. Oracle really appreciates this money for their event, and reciprocates by saying very nice things about NetApp.

Nothing wrong with that – heck, I enjoyed watching Sir Elton John at OOW this year, as did many of you. The food was pretty good, too.

NetApp also did a great transaction a while ago with Oracle’s Austin Data Center where they run their outsourcing business. I’m not privy to the exact details, but there seems to be an exchange-in-kind where Oracle got a great deal on hardware, and NetApp got a great marketing reference. The result is a slick video where Oracle people running Austin talk about how great NetApp is.

All part of the normal give-and-take that sometimes goes on. Here’s what you might not know …

So, what does Oracle run their production systems on? The ones that keep their company running? Their email? The majority of their development environment? The gigantic Oracle Single Instance at the very heart of their company?


So, back to the theme. I’d agree that NetApp is Oracle’s preferred marketing partner in the storage world these days, but there’s a far stretch between that financial arrangement and the one NetApp is claiming.

Again, Bad Marketing in action.

Seductive Claim #4 – NetApp Is An Enterprise Storage Company

This one makes no sense to me whatsoever. There’s a big difference between selling storage to large enterprises, and being an enterprise storage company.

My company (a large enterprise) buys memory sticks from a small company. Does that make them an enterprise storage company too?

More specifically, do companies trust NetApp with their most mission-critical applications? Do they have the robust architectures, backed up by expensive service and support capabilities? Do they have experience in some of the most demanding IT environments in the world?

I’m OK with NetApp claiming that they sell to large enterprises, because they do.

Usually it’s test and dev environments, or maybe a large file farm, or something else that isn’t deemed mission critical. And, trust me, they do a very good job selling to places where they’re good, and staying out of environments that they don’t do well in.

But – please – don’t torture that statement into positioning yourself as an enterprise storage company. You folks haven’t made the investments in products, testing, service and support to back up that claim.

Someone could get hurt.

Bad Marketing in action, again.

Seductive Claim #5 – NetApp Products Offer Superior Performance

I won’t rehash this one again (see here), but – once again, we have Bad Marketing in action. One thing is promised, and the exact opposite is usually true.

Bad Marketing In Perspective

Now, to be fair, I’m picking on NetApp pretty hard here. They’re big boys, they can take it. Heck, they dish out plenty of dirt to EMC, so they must expect a bit of a rebuke regarding their business practices. And the practice of Bad Marketing is hardly limited to NetApp.

And you may be thinking – is EMC any better in this regard?

I sit on several marketing review committees, and we try – as hard as we can – to make sure that if we claim something in our marketing material, that we can back it up, and – more importantly – we’re not leading people into the exact opposite outcome. We’re not anywhere close to perfect in doing this, but we consider it very important to make a consistent effort in this regard, and to try to get better.

My real beef is that I don’t think NetApp is even trying.

The real question – for all IT vendors — is what’s the goal here?

Is it to grow the stock price by showing strong growth and numbers?

Or is the goal to build a franchise built on serving customers needs, and building trust?

I would offer that – in the long run – they would ideally be the same thing. I just wish more people felt that way.

Certainly, customers would be better served.

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