NetApp Cheerleader Lee Caswell Moves To VMware To Promote Storage

Lee Caswell, a NetApp marketing executive and the storage company's top cheerleader, has left the company to take up a key marketing role with VMware's storage business.

Caswell, who until last week served as vice president of NetApp's product, solutions and services marketing, is now the vice president of products at VMware, where he is responsible for product management and product marketing in that company's storage and availability business unit.

Caswell was unavailable to comment on his new position other than via email to CRN, where he wrote, "I'm an offensive player and this space is ripe for some aggressive marketing."

[Related: IDC: All-Flash Storage Array Sales Soar In First Quarter, Enterprise Storage Sales Stumble Badly]

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NetApp was unavailable to comment on Caswell's departure. However, a company spokesperson told CRN via email that the company will begin an internal and external search for Lee's replacement immediately. In the meantime, Caswell's team is reporting to Brian Bakstran, acting NetApp chief marketing officer.

The NetApp spokesperson also emailed CRN with an unattributed statement on Caswell's departure that reads, "We are grateful for Lee’s contributions to NetApp and wish him success in his new ventures. As we continue our market momentum -- including our recent leadership position in flash as evidenced by IDC's Q1 2016 Worldwide Quarterly Enterprise Storage Systems Tracker -- we are confident that we have a team of the best and brightest talent for the future."

Caswell and VMware are no strangers. Caswell helped launch VMware into the server market in 2002 and 2003 as executive vice president of marketing and business development for the company.

He then left to become a co-founder at Pivot3, an Austin, Texas-based developer of hyper-converged infrastructure and storage solutions, and served as that company's CEO from 2005 to 2007. He joined NetApp in October 2014 after a two-year stint at Fusion-io, which was acquired by SanDisk.

Caswell joins VMware at an interesting time for the company, which is using its virtualization experience to promote its idea of a software-defined data center.

VMware, which is majority owned by NetApp rival EMC, early this year replaced its poorly selling EVO:Rail hyper-converged infrastructure solution with VMware Hyper Converged Software (HCS).

VMware HCS includes the company's vSphere hypervisor, Virtual SAN (VSAN) storage technology and the vCenter Server unified management solution. VSAN 6.2 delivers deduplication, compression and erasure coding capabilities to enable the building of all-flash hyper-converged infrastructure appliances. Also new with VSAN 6.2 is stretched clusters, quality of service controls on a per-virtual machine basis, and vCenter management.

Caswell's move to VMware represents a real opportunity for him, and does not reflect at all on where NetApp is heading, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider and longtime NetApp channel partner.

Woodall told CRN that he has talked already with Caswell about his move to VMware. "Lee has been an awesome advocate for NetApp," Woodall told CRN. "He frankly had an offer he would have been a fool to pass up. He was at VMware before, and is a VMware vExpert."

Woodall said he expects NetApp will look outside the company to fill Caswell's position at the company.

"Caswell was a great amplifier of NetApp's work," he said. "But the good work will go on at NetApp. It has a solid road map. He was the man in front of the microphone. NetApp will need to find a new frontman. It'll probably have to look outside the company."

While NetApp has seen its share of executive and management changes, Woodall said not to read too much into Caswell's departure.

"Lee's departure is good for Lee, and it doesn't hurt NetApp," he said. "NetApp remains very competitive. The flash storage industry is a knife fight with close combat between the vendors. It's good for customers. There are a handful of companies ready to take advantage of the flash storage trend. And NetApp is one of them."