Getting off the NetApp train

Does NetApp have a problem with 8.2 cluster-mode? Their reputation was earned with highly reliable storage, and by empowering their customers to do things themselves. With 8.2 Cluster-mode the NetApp Borg are in control and NetApp has turned into EMC. NetApp customers have always been in control of their systems and configurations: Now you have to ask the Borg for permission.

Last week while visiting a client in New York I was told “I’m getting off the NetApp train; there will be no more forklift upgrades in our facilities.” It was not the first time I had heard that a customer was tired of the cost of NetApp support; being in the independent support business I work with disaffected NetApp users daily. But since the announcement of the relicensing of Filers by NetApp for 8.2 came out our business has been inundated with requests for legacy support for NetApp equipment.

NetApp started out as a departmental storage company, and Dave Hitz and James Lau really put together a great engineering team to solve the problems of NFS, CIFS and multi-mode storage. Snapshots and Snapmirror are great software products that are reliability leaders and a true differentiator. These products empower Storage Administrators to provide their users with outstanding data storage reliability and access. Why would a corporation that has worked so hard over the years to earn its customer loyalty, suddenly change its business paradigm and enrage its customer base?

A friend of mine that is in a related business to ours might have the answer: He said that it sounded to him as though NetApp had changed from an Engineering company to a Marketing Machine. And we wondered: Could this be a pattern for innovative manufacturing companies when they get to be about 20 years old and experience wholesale changes in leadership?

During our discussion, I mentioned that NetApp’s management should be listening to their customers, and reacting to the unhappiness that is pushing them to embrace legacy support. My friend said that the original team at NetApp understood the issues of the Storage Administrator and built a solution for them, while the new management does not understand the issues that a storage administrator deals with and are far more focused on numbers and Wall Street.

Based on what I’ve been told, NetApp’s customers recognize that there are not enough new features in 8.2 to justify the costs and effort to upgrade to a new OS platform. The customers are telling their Sales teams that they like what they are using now and Zerowait is going to maintain their equipment moving forward. Will NetApp’s management listen to their customers, or will they just keep to their talking points? I expect 2014 will shape up to be a pivotal year for NetApp Corporation and its customers.

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