A Tale of Two Cities

This year, I was fortunate enough to attend both NetApp Insight events, thanks to @SamMoulton and the @NetAppATeam; and whilst there are normally differences between the conferences it’s fair to say that this year they were polar opposites. Whilst the events team try extremely hard to make sure there is minimal difference between the two, this year there were things outside their control. Yes, there were pretty much the same topics and breakout sessions with the same speakers, and there was an even representation of sponsors and technology partners at both events, yet things were different.

Without going into too much detail, on Sunday 1st of October, the worst case of domestic terror within the US happened to coincide with the arrival date, location of NetApp Insight Last Vegas, and the hotel where majority of attendees were staying. This changed the overall mood and perception of the event. Las Vegas turned into a more sombre affair with more a perfunctory feel that was only right given the events that occurred. Yet, NetApp dug deep, showing skill, resolve and sincerity, and they still delivered an excellent event to be proud of. I would also like to give a huge thank you to the LVPD, first responders, EMT and anyone else associated in helping those who were caught up in this tragedy. During this tragic turn of events, true human nature and kindness shone through.

The NetApp Insight event that occurred two weeks ago in Berlin was a completely different beast. It was our fourth year at the Messe Berlin & City Cube, and like any recurring venue, it started to feel more familiar—like an old friend that we hadn’t spent much time with recently. Some in the partner community objected to the event being held in Berlin for the fourth year in a row. From my perspective, the high quality of content delivered in breakout sessions during the conference is the main draw for delegates, and whilst it’s nice to visit a new city, you have to feel for those who work in the Americas (just a little bit), where pretty much every conference is held in Las Vegas. (Veeam ON, which was held in New Orleans this year and Chicago next year, being the major exception.) After four years, I feel I’m only scratching the surface of what Berlin has to offer. I’ll probably miss not being there next year, but we are following the crowds to Barcelona and we will be there in December 2018.

Having attended many NetApp Insight events over the years, it’s fair to say that on Day 1 of Insight Berlin, there was a different, more positive, feel to the conference, one that has eluded it over the last five or so years. Those showing up were excited to what the four days would hold. The employees speaking or manning booths were eager to be meeting and discussing the advancements made in the past 12 months. No longer driving home the message about speeds and feeds but talking about the services and solutions that NetApp products bring to the table, and with over 250 services and solutions, that’s a massive number of ways to make a data fabric that’s fit for you. It was great to see partners from across EMEA wanting to learn more about the Next Generation Data Centre (NGDC) portfolio and understand how best to adapt it to their individual customer requirements. I also sat in on a few sessions to top up on those missed due to being cancelled in Las Vegas, and it’s fair to day that everyone’s heads (mine included) were more in the game.

Berlin started with a drum roll, quite literally, with the curtain raising act from the amazing Blue Devils Drum Line, all the way from California (check them out on YouTube). From @Henri_P_Richard, we heard a strong confident message about how to change the world with data. We learned how digital transformation is gaining momentum and empowering businesses as they move from survivors to thrivers in our data-centric era. Henri quite nicely backed this up by pointing out that NetApp are the fastest-growing of the top 5 total enterprise storage system vendors. It is also the fastest growing All Flash Array vendor, the fastest growing SAN vendor, and the world’s number 1 branded storage OS. But what really underlined these points was the reported earnings that came out Wednesday evening, which moved NetApp’s share price from $45 to $56 (as of writing), on the back of net revenues increasing 6% YOY, and raising their outlook for the rest of the fiscal year.

There were several stand out points made at Berlin. At the top of probably everyone’s list is the bold move that NetApp are making into the HCI space and the excellent untraditional tack they have taken to position this technology. Listening to NetApp’s detractors, I feel that there are a lot of established first-generation HCI vendors that fear what NetApp will bring to the table. (You only have to look at the AFA marketplace and how NetApp have delivered 58% global YOY growth.) As a distributor, we applied to get a demo unit to help promote this product, but due to the huge demand from customers, that box has had to slip down the priority delivery chain, which happens to show that despite the FUD being bandied about, customers out there really value the message and benefits that NetApp HCI is bringing.

One of my highlights came during the Day Two general session when Octavian Tanase and Jeff Baxter outlined the direction NetApp are heading in over the upcoming months. One of the many interesting technologies that they demonstrated during this section of the keynote was the Plexistor technology, which NetApp acquired for $32M in May 2017. With Plexistor, NetApp are able to not only increase the throughput over AFF by ten times, from 300K IOPS to 3M IOPS, but they also demonstrated that they can reduce the latency by seventy fold from 220µs to 3µs!! Now, that’s a performance improvement of two separate orders of magnitude.

This is, at the moment, a very niche technology, which will only benefit a very small number of the storage population to begin with; but it does illustrate that NetApp are not only delivering some of the most advanced endpoints on the globe today but also the boundaries they are pushing up against and stepping well past to stay at the forefront of data management. Working with Storage Class Memory and NVMe to deliver what will be the norm of next generation of storage appliances, NetApp are demonstrating that they have a clear understanding of what the technology is capable of whilst blazing a trail that others desire to follow.

For those of you how missed the event (shame on you), NetApp UK are holding a one day event on the 12 of December at their UK main office (Rivermead) for partners; and for those with a NetApp SSO, you can now access all the great content recorded during both insight events and download copies of the presentations to review at you leisure. When you have done all that, ask yourself, “How are you going to change the world with data?”