NetApp's FlashRay Chief Pawlowski Departs, Partners Say Product Is Facing Uncertain Future

Brian Pawlowski (left) and Ty McConney discuss FlashRay and NetApp's flash storage technology in 2013.

The future of NetApp's FlashRay all-flash array product is in doubt after a recent leadership shakeup that included the departure of Brian Pawlowski, the executive who has been leading its development.

Pawlowski, a 20-year NetApp veteran who was a senior vice president and technical staff member, left the vendor earlier this month but isn't saying where he's going next.

On his LinkedIn profile, Pawlowski describes his new job only as "A New Venture" in which he works "with a small group of brilliant people."

NetApp has also moved FlashRay development under its legacy FAS team, which focuses on the company's Data OnTap operating system and WAFL (Write Anywhere File Layout) file system. That group is led by Dave Mason, senior vice president for NetApp's FAS Systems Group.

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The role of Ty McConney, vice president of NetApp flash storage, has also changed. McConney, who worked closely with Pawlowski in the development of FlashRay, is on an extended leave of absence from NetApp, and sources told CRN there are concerns in the channel that he may also have left.

NetApp, in a statement emailed to CRN, acknowledged that leadership of the FlashRay team has changed. Tom Rampone, vice president of FlashRay engineering at NetApp, assumed leadership of the FlashRay team from Pawlowski sometime last year, the vendor told CRN.

"Tom was hired to take over day-to-day operations as the initial incubation and vision phase winds down and the product enters a customer evaluation phase. He has a long history of bringing new technology to market and we will benefit from his operational diligence. Tom reports into Dave Mason in the Performance Products Group (PPG)," NetApp said in the statement.

FlashRay is NetApp's first storage solution built from the ground-up as an all-flash storage array. NetApp first announced it was developing FlashRay two years ago this month, and released it last September after numerous delays.

In November, Pawlowski acknowledged that FlashRay lacked several key features and told CRN NetApp was readying updates to fill the gaps.

One NetApp partner, who preferred to remain anonymous, said Pawlowski's departure, along with the move to bring FlashRay development under the FAS team, likely spells trouble for the FlashRay product.

While NetApp's FAS and FlashRay lines ran on a common platform, FlashRay was supposed to be competitive with solutions from startups with new flash storage-optimized solutions, the partner said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"This tells me FlashRay is really going to die," the solution provider said. "It raises the question of whether FlashRay will come to market as designed, or whether it will move to Data OnTap or WAFL code. NetApp has good software."

Another NetApp partner said moving FlashRay to the FAS team means that NetApp may have to start over with the product. "NetApp realizes it's getting its [butt] kicked with IBM's Texas Memory Systems and others out there," the solution provider said.

Both solution providers also said that NetApp is currently going through an as-yet unannounced layoff round which appears to be especially impacting the company's product development teams.

NetApp said in the statement that it is "firmly committed" to its flash storage portfolio, including FlashRay.

"To deliver maximum value to our customers, we combine flash technology with mature enterprise-class storage and data management software and systems. NetApp is focused on building a deep and differentiated pool of intellectual property around flash, providing us with a range of offerings to help customers best integrate flash into their data management framework on-premises, in the cloud and across clouds," NetApp wrote.

The departure of Pawlowski was first reported by the Register.