NetApp’s strategic processes well-suited to World of cloud and COVID: CEO George Kurian

NetApp’s CEO kicked off NetApp INSIGHT with the same kind of precise and combative address he generally gives in his non-virtual speeches, and explained NetApp’s strategy and why he thinks it will help customers address current problems.

Since George Kurian was named CEO of NetApp in June 2015, and set about restructuring the company for the world of cloud, his public addresses have been characterized by a particular type of forcefulness. They combine a detailed articulation of the company’s vision with an estimation of their progress towards goals, and a willingness to throw bricks at the competition with a clear ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. With NetApp INSIGHT being digital this year, that philosophy was not assured to return. The differences between physical and virtual events have had many CEOs imparting salesy bromides rather than vision and strategy at their online events. Some have been little more than virtual emcees.

As it turned out, the virtual George Kurian was the old George Kurian, and his keynote, while shorter than normal, touched on his usual themes. He laid out NetApp’s philosophy and why he thinks it is well suited to both COVID and modern hybrid cloud and multi-cloud environments. He walked the audience through the steps of NetApp’s strategic processes, indicating how they build on each other. And he also threw a few bricks at the competition

Kurian began by establishing the context of massive change, most of it negative thanks to COVID.

“This has been a tremendously difficult time, but I hope that you come away from the next two days feeling hopeful about the future, because I am,” he said, in kicking off the event. “For while change can be difficult, if we treat it as a familiar constant in life, we can spot open windows of opportunity, where we might have seen closed doors of despair.”

Kurian then outlined specifically how these changes impact customers’ businesses.

“The world is changing fundamentally and quickly,” he stated. “There is no question that COVID 19 has rapidly changed the world, replacing physical interaction with socially distant remote digital interaction. As such, the ways that we interact with customers and engage employees have changed. Businesses have changed, and entire industries are being decomposed and recomposed digitally in real time. This is classic disruption. Except this time, it’s happening at global scale with unprecedented speed.”

That speed has forced businesses to reply with equal speed, or risk going under.

“Speed and agility is what helps a business succeed in its response to the pandemic,” Kurian said. “That has never been more evident than in the last few months. Cloud broadly defined is the platform to run your digital business, to engage your customers and employees. And data is the currency of a digital business. It is the digital business understanding of its customers, employees and suppliers.”

He then turned to practical applications of this for his audience.

So let’s talk about how we thrive in the new world that’s forming and how we at NetApp can help you succeed,” Kurian indicated. “Let’s start with the IT industry itself. The leading cloud providers are building massive global digital business platforms with powerful ecosystems. And there are specialists who now can leverage the massive scale of those platforms to reach customers around the world. Whereas in the traditional world, these specialists were challenged by generalists who had the benefits of scale but were encumbered by mediocrity, a digital economy rewrites those rules. Specialists with deep expertise and business speed can leverage and contribute to these large digital platforms and ecosystems, to rise above the legacy generalists.”

This brought him to a major theme, that NetApp has focused on being a specialist in data management, unlike their more generalist larger competitors.

“Like you, we understand the power of being a specialist, being the very best in the world at what we do. Kurian told his audience. “It is at the core of who we are and how we respond to industry disruption. Our transformation started long before COVID, as we considered how digitization and cloud would impact customers, the industry and NetApp. While our competition stuck to their plan to build their own competitive clouds – and failed – we prioritized customer needs and chose to partner with the leading cloud providers.”

Kurian then outlined the five strategic processes that make up the company’s current strategy

“Let me share our own though processes and strategic processes, for it might help you as you consider your own path forward,” he told the customers. “First, we figured out what customers really need. Data hybrid and multi cloud are both very hard enduring problems. Customers need a data fabric to deliver the right data to the right place at the right time.

“Second we doubled down on what NetApp is a specialist at, building on 28 years of experience, building a portfolio of cloud data services, software and systems to help you lead with data,” Kurian added.

“Third, we are exploiting what we really good at in new ways, bringing the performance, efficiency and availability of the mission-critical enterprise to the leading public clouds, and bringing the simplicity and flexibility of the public cloud to the enterprise.”

His fourth point touched on what has been a differentiator for NetApp as a consistent element of strategy.

“Fourth, we are partnering with the industry leaders, and with the world’s biggest clouds, to build a new innovation ecosystem,” Kurian said. We here at NetApp are building an open architecture, unlike the walled gardens you see from other enterprise cloud vendors. And this gives you choice and investment protection moving forward.

“And finally, we are building upon all of this with additional capabilities, talent and business evolution,” Kurian continued. “You will see evidence of this at Insight this year with new members of our leadership team, acquisitions, Keystone services continuous software innovation and deep code development with cloud providers.”

So what does that mean for you, Kurian asked rhetorically.

“We at NetApp are the specialists who are helping you unlock the best of cloud across public, hybrid and on-premises,” he stated. “We’re helping you demand more from your cloud. For example, we help you build, deploy and optimize new applications much more quickly on public, hybrid and multi-cloud. Second, we enable you to embrace the best of both public and private clouds. You can deploy and scale your digital business initiatives with the best hybrid cloud architecture in the industry, period. And finally, we help you consolidate, modernize, simplify and automate your data centre infrastructure with an easy path to cloud, to enable you to make data as a service available to your stakeholders.”

Kurian then highlighted how acquisitions since the last Insight have deepened NetApp’s data fabric strategy, and led to new solutions being announced at the event.

“Im super-excited at the innovations that we are announcing this year,” he said. “Since last year, in public cloud services, we have through the acquisitions of Spot, Talon and Cloudjumper, and the enhancement of our cloud storage capabilities, established a platform for highly optimized application-driven infrastructures. It complements and extends the data fabric, saving customers up to 90% of their cloud costs.”

Kurian said that these announcements uniquely combine the flexibility of serverless computing with storageless data persistence to provide the simplest, easiest to manage, continually optimized infrastructure, for enterprise applications, cloud-native applications and virtual desktop applications.