NetApp CEO Kurian lays out aggressive strategy to partners

NetApp CEO George Kurian kicked off NetApp’s second C3 partner conference by outlining the company’s three-pronged strategy to drive business in the year ahead, and asking partners to increase their commitment to NetApp to match the increased commitment NetApp is making to them.

SCOTTSDALE – NetApp CEO George Kurian’s communications strategy has changed a lot in his three years on the job. When he took over, his task was persuading customers and the market in general that NetApp, which once pioneered storage filers, still had a future in a rapidly changing industry. He rapidly pivoted the company’s efforts away from legacy networked storage, and into high growth areas like flash. Now, the company has completed a remarkable financial turnout, is growing, and is carving out a strong position in segments of the high growth areas. At NetApp’s second C3 partner event, Kurian laid out his strategy to partners how NetApp intends to expand on today’s opportunities, and what the channel needs to do to play its part.

“We would not be here without having made the tough choices to build out new ways to serve customers,” Kurian said in his opening keynote. “It opens up new pathways to market. It allows us to ferociously compete for what is rightfully ours. We are no longer content to be nice guys who come in in second place.”

Kurian said that NetApp’s new positioning is about changing a recipe that he described as having been okay, but not great.

“We wouldn’t have gotten to this if we didn’t make those fundamental changes,” he said. “We are better positioned this year than we have been in a really long time. We have made extraordinary progress in aligning NetApp with where our customers are headed. We have repositioned ourselves from being a traditional storage provider to being the data authority in the hybrid cloud. We are dealing with more companies about their business problems, not just their technology problems.”

Kurian emphasized that digital transformation has also required this shift in strategy, with customers’ digital transformation initiatives often not being led by the CIO, but by the CMO (34 per cent of the time) or the CEO (27 per cent). The changes mean that business leadership is also looking for alternate strategies.

“65 per cent of enterprises have a cloud first strategy, where they are not just doing things in the cloud, but are looking to start there first, and then consider whether to go data centre as well,” he said. “81 per cent also have a multi-cloud strategy. We have an enormous opportunity to present ourselves in new ways to our customers, so we are leaning into cloud in all aspects of our business. It has been nothing but positive for us. Many people say disrupting a public company is a dangerous idea, but I’m not one bit concerned about disrupting ourselves. This is the best tailwind for our business that we have ever had.”

Kurian then laid out the strategy which NetApp has formalized for the new fiscal year

“We have focused our strategic priorities and our road map on supporting that repositioning,” he said. “First, we have the best portfolio for flash, to lead customers to the next high performance data management solutions. We also have the best HCI solution for digital transformation. Finally we have the best cloud data services portfolio and execution. We have already succeeded in winning key transitions from disk use cases to flash and from the data centre to the cloud. We are without question going to do the same thing in the hyperconverged [HCI] market.”

Kurian emphasized to partners that the pivot NetApp making now isn’t really new, but rather a logical stage of the initial strategy he laid out when he took the job. At that point he outlined his plan to transform NetApp from a declining company focused on a single legacy product set into one that would aggressively carve out a presence in new areas for storage like all-flash and the cloud. It’s important to note that he talked about doing these things before NetApp had actually done them. Now they have.

“We pivoted to growth several years ago, and while the networked storage market continues to decline – down 13 per cent – HCI is up 29 per cent, all-flash 21 per cent and cloud storage 13 per cent,” he said. “All-flash arrays will be the de facto standard in data centres in the next few years, as the market transitions from disk to flash, and we will be the number one provider in the world. 40 per cent of the storage market is controlled by companies who are retreating. That 40 per cent will become NetApp Blue. We will take no prisoners.”

Kurian stressed that NetApp has massively built up their presence in the cloud, in large part because their data fabric has made the big hyperscale cloud providers want to work with them.

“When we announced our data fabric four years ago, there was a lot of skepticism,” he said. “Now, it’s being deployed in the world’s biggest clouds. That’s of enormous strategic intelligence to our customers – that the biggest clouds are choosing NetApp. We are doing some really exciting work in concert with the worlds biggest hyperscalers.”

All of this offers NetApp channel partners new opportunities, but Kurian said that in return, they want NetApp’s partners to make a stronger commitment to them.

“Our expectation is that partnership is a two-way commitment,” he told his audience. “You have our commitment to build the best technology portfolio, to compete ferociously for our rightful joint opportunities, to take no prisoners, and to serve customers in new ways to ensure customer satisfaction and success with the best business outcomes they could have imaged. I ask politely but clearly ask you to do the same in return – to invest alongside us in these areas of new opportunity and not just in areas where we are already strong. Those of you who think of us as a NAS company should also go back and revisit your vocabulary. We are not that any more.”