Partners Puzzled By NetApp's Public Silence About Rival EMC's Acquisition By Dell

George Kurian

NetApp has been surprisingly quiet about Dell's planned acquisition of archrival storage vendor EMC, solution providers at this week's NetApp Insight conference said.

Executives of NetApp -- which will become the world's largest independent storage vendor if Dell's EMC acquisition closes as planned next year -- have been reluctant to take the stage to tell customers about NetApp's reaction, which has some solution providers scratching their heads.

NetApp officials in private have discussed Dell's planned EMC acquisition. But NetApp CEO George Kurian told CRN earlier this week at the Las Vegas conference that NetApp prefers to talk about its own strategy.

[Related: What Will A Merged Dell-EMC Look Like?]

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"I wish both of them well," Kurian told CRN at the time. "It's complex, and will cause some uncertainty for customers and partners. ... We are focused on what we are offering to customers, which is what we believe is the best path to building a hybrid cloud architecture."

On Wednesday, when asked to respond to channel partners' concerns that NetApp has not been more public in its response, Kurian again told CRN the company is focusing on its own business, and not on anything Dell or EMC might do.

"That's yesterday's solution to tomorrow's problem," he said. "This is our conference, and we're here to talk about our solutions with our partners and our customers."

A number of Kurian's peers, in contrast, have spoken out about the deal.

Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman on Monday morning told Hewlett Packard Enterprise employees via email that Dell's acquisition of EMC is sure to cause a lot of pain for Dell-EMC channel partners. "This move is going to cause chaos in the channel as they bring together two different programs and approaches," Whitman wrote.

HP Inc. CEO Dion Weisler wrote in an email to employees Monday that the acquisition will spell trouble for partners and opportunity for HP.

"Change equals opportunity," Weisler wrote. "It gives us a chance to be even more focused. Dell will be distracted and their customers and partners will be agitated. Seize the opportunity by reaching out to our current customers and partners, as well as aggressively pursue Dell accounts. We are the industry pillar of strength right now."

Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins on Tuesday said at The Channel Company's Best of Breed Conference in Orlando, Fla., that he planned to talk with Dell CEO Michael Dell about continuing the networking giant's relationship with EMC and VMware going forward.

Robbins, onstage with The Channel Company CEO Robert Faletra, said he has talked with EMC executives about the need to continue the long-term EMC-Cisco relationship, and that he expects Cisco will remain part of VCE.

"I think they will continue to evolve to meet the different use cases that they face within their customer base," said Robbins of the Dell-EMC-VMware combination, "but I can't imagine a world where there are customers that aren't asking for solutions with 'C' in it, just like despite the rhetoric and competition that theoretically exists between us and VMware, customers still want both. It's incumbent upon us to make that work."

NetApp channel partners said they wish NetApp executives had been that open in public about the possible impact of the Dell-EMC deal.

One solution provider told CRN under condition of anonymity that many of NetApp's channel partners are upset that the vendor didn't talk about its strategy in response to the Dell-EMC news.

"[NetApp Vice President of Americas Channel Sales] Scott Strubel told us NetApp will have a Dell-EMC strategy in January," the solution provider said. "That's too long. We need time to attack the deal now."

NetApp seems to have been caught off-guard, the solution provider said. "They didn't bring it up in the keynote," he said. "There seems to be no contingency planning. It's like a deer in the headlights. It almost makes it seem like NetApp is in talks about getting acquired by someone else."

The solution provider said that NetApp has to address the issue with its channel. "It could have capitalized on the news here at NetApp Insight," he said. "They need to give the channel motivation and direction."

NetApp Insight has seen NetApp be more vocal recently on many areas of interest to the channel than it has been for years, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems (IAS), a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and longtime NetApp channel partner.

"We're seeing NetApp coming out from the doldrums of silence," Woodall told CRN.

However, Woodall said, NetApp's response to the Dell-EMC deal has all been internal or in quiet conversations with channel partners.

NetApp really needs to be vocal about the issue, he said. "There's a lot of confusion over Dell and EMC," he said. "NetApp has to be the voice of reason. There will be years of confusion. NetApp needs to get out there."

NetApp Insight was full of technical users and partners, making it the perfect public platform to talk about the Dell-EMC deal, Woodall said.

"I can't think of a better time or place to say something," he said. "NetApp needs to set the tone, especially with customers who buy the other companies' products. Customers want to know why they're saying nothing. It's a missed opportunity."

NetApp can make up for the silence, but will hopefully do so soon, Woodall said.

"George Kurian is a passionate, engaging personality," he said. "He can engage well" on the issues, Woodall said.

Richard Heard, president of Red8, a Costa Mesa, Calif.-based NetApp and EMC channel partner, told CRN that he hadn't thought about NetApp's silence on this issue, but noted that the idea of "the silence is deafening" makes sense.

"If this had happened five years ago, NetApp would have been hooting and hollering about it," Heard said. "But not today. I guess it's because of all the change and uncertainty the situation is causing."