CRN Exclusive: NetApp CEO Kurian On VMware Relationship In A New Dell-EMC World

NetApp: Soon To Be The Last (Big) Man Standing

If Dell closes its acquisition of EMC as planned, that will leave NetApp the largest of the independent storage vendors. That unique position for NetApp leads to a wide range of questions about the future for the company, including:

-- Will NetApp be an acquisition target itself?

-- Will NetApp be able to continue its relationship with a VMware that could be part of archrival Dell?

-- How does one measure success in storage with so many changes going on?

For answers, CRN met with NetApp CEO George Kurian during a break in Kurian's busy schedule at this week's NetApp Insight conference. While Kurian has been in the CEO role for only a few months, he is a longtime NetApp veteran who opened up about how the Dell/EMC deal might impact the industry and his own company.

Here's what Kurian had to say.

Did you hear anything about a storage company being acquired today?

I do read the news.

I came to this event thinking we could talk all about NetApp, but we can't. So what do you think about the acquisition?

I wish both of them well. It's complex, and will cause some uncertainty for customers and partners who are looking at road maps from those two companies as well as at road maps from their partnerships with other technology providers.

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. And when we talk to customers about the hybrid cloud, what they tell us is their operational mode and their architecture is hybrid because they want choice, they want flexibility, and they want the ability to have consistent data management across these different topologies. And we think we have the best solution for the industry.

Dell and EMC are talking about a hybrid solution as well, about how the server and the network and putting the whole thing all together. Doesn't that give them an advantage over NetApp, which traditionally has focused on partnerships?

Many people have tried to put large IT portfolios together with varying degrees of success. I think we've demonstrated with the work we've done with VMware over the years where we've got more than 50,000 joint customers with them, as well as with leading cloud platform providers where we can build ready-now, deployable, hybrid cloud architectures that are resulting in great business outcomes for customers.

Have you talked at all with VMware to find out what the acquisition might mean to partnerships like that with NetApp going forward?

We've had a long history of success with VMware. We know how to partner with them regardless of what ownership structure they are part of. And we've demonstrated that in the marketplace. I think even they recognize that having joint solutions that are deployed by many so tens of thousands of customers is a representation of what great things we can deliver in the market together.

EMC and Dell have traditionally had a number of disparate storage platforms like Compellent and EqualLogic, or VNX and VMAX, and have criticized NetApp for trying to fit all customer workloads onto a single platform. How do you respond to that?

I think that we have proven to the marketplace that people that have bought into our products have long-lived road maps. We've integrated our flash technologies. We've integrated a variety of other advancements, most notably the ability to build a single operating environment that combines on-premises and the public cloud, including the world's leading public clouds, people like Amazon and Microsoft Azure and IBM and Google.

So we feel that we are ahead of everybody else in the industry. And whether or not that's accomplished with a single operating system is a matter of debate. What matters is not the technology, but the value that we deliver to customers.

Assuming Dell's acquisition closes as planned, that leaves NetApp as the world's largest independent storage technology provider. Is that an accomplishment? Or a reflection of industry changes?

What we measure as accomplishments is what we achieve with customers. And if that translates into being the largest storage and data management company, great, we feel good about that.

But I think really the measure of progress is the fact that we continually kept our customers' interest at heart, and we have what we believe is uniquely differentiated architecture for the next generation of IT, the Data Fabric. It's deployed at customers, it's had strong results working with the leading cloud providers. And that's the measure of strength for us going forward.

Cisco Chairman John Chambers, when he retired, was the second-to-last of the longtime big iron IT industry titans. The last, EMC Chairman Joe Tucci, is retiring soon. Is it possible today for somebody to step up and become such an industry icon?

I would say it's a changing of the generations. I don't think the retirement of Joe, who has done a lot for the industry and who has been a great spokesperson for the industry, means a fundamental change in the quality of leadership. I think there will be generational leaders who can be developed in the companies that are being developed today. It's a matter of the leaders themselves more than any particular fundamental change in the IT industry.