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Scott Robinson, president of XIOSS, a Las Vegas-based solution provider and NetApp partner, said it appears to him that NetApp decided to build its flash storage array technology in-house in order to get tight integration with its Data Ontap offering.
"They probably decided it's easier to build its own rather than bolt the integration on later," Robinson said. "Integration with its own Data Ontap is important for NetApp."
However, Robinson said, while NetApp has a lot of really smart people, much of what it is doing with FlashRay, such as using things like dedupe to manage the flash memory wear leveling issue, is also being done by startups.
"I really like Pure Storage, which has in-line dedupe tied in with flash memory wear leveling that helps bring the cost of flash arrays down to that of tier-one storage arrays," he said. "But Pure Storage doesn't have built-in replication or a lot of the software that NetApp offers."
While the flash storage array business is still in the early stages, the concern for a company like NetApp is that customers are going to be making a lot of flash storage decisions this year, Robinson said.
"I expect NetApp will not be the cheapest guy on the market with the kind of support they plan to offer," he said. "Some customers will wait. But, others will look at alternatives."
Once the decision was made to develop flash storage array technology in-house, NetApp set up the development as Project Mars, a separate group headed by Pawlowski, who actually stepped down as NetApp CTO to lead it.
It was a decision Pawlowski never regretted. "As CTO, I was involved in most acquisitions," he said. "But I'm having a great time with this project."
Project Mars was structured as a startup company within NetApp. "It was not set up as a legal entity," Pawlowski said. "It's an isolated group within NetApp."
Pawlowski's team is located in a building near NetApp's Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters. "Our building has very restricted access," he said. "It's open just for our team. No one knows the building is owned by NetApp."