Network Appliance on Tuesday previewed next week's annual partner summit with the introduction of a new professional services program for solution providers who say the move is both welcome and long overdue.
The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based storage vendor also unveiled enhancements to its storage software line, including increased virtualization capabilities for its SnapManager software and improvements to its storage provisioning software.
NetApp has been talking about coming out with its Authorized Services Professional program for about five months, and it is finally a reality, said Rick DeTurck, senior director of services for the vendor. "We're going to help out partners through marketing and tools to enable them to offer these services," DeTurck said.
It's about time, NetApp solution providers said.
It will be important to the success of its partners, said Rick Marcotte, president and CEO of DLT Solutions, a Herndon, Va.-based government solution provider and long-time NetApp partner.
Marcotte, who said his company has been loud in its call for NetApp to do more to bring professional services capabilities to its solution providers, said that NetApp has been talking its tagline of "channel successful" for about a year, and that authorizing more partners to do professional services will be important to both sides. "One way to help its partners be successful is to increase margins with services," he said.
NetApp is authorizing its partners for professional services with Web-based and instructor-led courses in four areas, DeTurck said.
The first is in storage provisioning, where NetApp is helping solution providers get certified as an automated storage provisioning engineer, or ASPEN. This is a series of scripts to help both its own and its partners' engineers to better talk to customers about how to automate their storage provisioning. Included is information about how to do that automation, and software to create an "as-built" documentation in Visio Basic that shows how the storage was created and deployed, DeTurck said.
The third is certification for virtual tape library implementation, aimed at enabling partners to provide VTL solutions based on NetApp technology, DeTurck said. The services are not tied to any specific data protection application such as NetApp's NetBackup or EMC's Legato offerings, he said.
The fourth is certification for applications from Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash. running on NetApp hardware and software, DeTurck said. This includes training, tools, and methodologies for solution providers who have been certified by Microsoft for applications such as Exchange, SQL, and SharePoint, he said.
Partners who have two of their personnel certified in any of these services become an authorized services partner, which gives them mention on the NetApp Web site along with help to promote their services capabilities, DeTurck said.
A mature, well-defined, and tightly regulated services program such as the new NetApp program goes a long ways towards helping solution providers generate more value for customers and enlarge their customer footprints, Marcotte said.
"Tightly regulated is important," he said. "You can't just put a check on a box that says, 'I'm approved.' You have to be trained and certified, and take quarterly classes and audits. You should have to make the investment to succeed. NetApp is not overly distributed. It needs a serious program, one where only serious solution providers need apply, not every Tom, Dick, and Harry."
Rolf Strasheim, director of client solutions at Peak UpTime, a Tulsa, Okla.-based NetApp solution provider, said the vendor is now offering an actual, cohesive program for services.
"We have used third parties for services in some deals," Strasheim said. "There are organizations out there that provide NetApp services but who don't sell hardware. So I'm looking forward to the formal program."
Along with the new authorized services program, NetApp is also offering a spring training program later this month for its solution providers, DeTurck said. The company is bringing about 750 of its professional services partners to Orlando, Fla. for training, and for the first time will include solution providers in the training. Over 350 partners are expected to attend, he said.
NetApp has also opened its knowledge base to solution providers through an on-line portal from where they can access the same documents the vendor's own personnel can access, DeTurck said. The company also has opened a toll-free phone number to support partners' professional services capabilities, and will work with partners to monitor customer satisfaction and pass feedback to them, he said.
NetApp on Tuesday also unveiled a number of additions to its storage software offerings.
The focus of the new offerings is on working in virtualized environments which have become a major factor on how storage is done, said Jay Kidd, NetApp chief marketing officer.
"The rapid adoption of server virtualization is causing people to rethink their data centers," Kidd said. "It is requiring an explosion in storage."
NetApp's SnapManager software, which offers application-aware handling of data snapshots, has been enhanced with the capability to work smoothly in virtual server environments configured using software from VMware, Palo Alto, Calif., Kidd said.
The new version, SnapManager for Virtual Infrastructure, automates data protection and recovery of virtual machines under VMware, Kidd said. It is really for the vast majority of applications that have yet to be optimized for virtual server environments.
"Most applications haven't been rewritten for virtual servers," he said. "NetApp already has virtual hooks in its SnapManager for applications like Exchange, SQL, SharePoint, Oracle, and SAP," he said. "SnapManager for Virtual Infrastructure provides the same capabilities for other applications."
Also new is Provisioning Manager, which offers policy-based automation to speed up the provision process, increase capacity utilization, and cut human error, Kidd said.
"It allows you to take a bunch of parameters for NAS and SAN provisioning, and then point and click to automatically set up storage volumes," he said. "For example, for a mission-critical Oracle database, you may want double protection and other parameters. You can set up a policy so that all those parameters are automatically applied when setting up a new volume."
Provisioning Manager also works with NetApp's Protection Manager, which itself was enhanced to provide seamless protection of virtualized server environments, Kidd said. Those enhancements include the ability to set policies which apply data protection capabilities across both physical and virtual servers, and the ability to work with groups of data volumes.
NetApp also enhanced the virtualization capabilities of its ONTAP storage operating system.