Storage Companies Have a Condescending Approach Towards Mid-Size Businesses: Syed Masroor

NetApp India is at the forefront of storage innovation. The company is now aggressively targeting the mid-size business tier in India with new offerings. We talk to Syed Masroor, head-technology and solutions organisation, try to understand NetApp's vision and how competition is failing to tap the mid-size businesses storage market. We also probe him about the storage trends the company is seeing in India.

What are the opportunities for storage that you see in the mid-size segment? How does NetApp intend to tackle this?

Number one thing about storage is that it is a fundamental part of a datacentre. I remember those days were the high flying days of Sun Microsystems and Scott McNealy once said, "Storage will always remain a peripheral". He meant to say that storage will basically connect to the backend and is a dumb device and server will always remain the primary component. But we (NetApp) firmly believed that the entire datacentre will revolve around the storage system. And we are right today.

Oracle was and still is a big partner for us. When we moved into the SAN world, Microsoft became a huge entry point. We were the pioneers of Unified Storage. It is surprising that Hitachi introduced Hitachi Unified Storage (HUS) just last year and we are saying that unified storage is passe. We are talking about bigger things now.

In a typical datacentre, today, are customers buying storage? Maybe. Maybe not. They are looking at storage virtualisation and reducing footprint. Are they buying desktops? Not really. Everybody has a portable device and they are looking at BYOD solutions.

Could you give a use case where using NetApp's storage solution has helped a mid-sized company in reducing costs?

Storage companies have a condescending approach towards mid-size businesses. A mid-size enterprise typically runs applications like VMWare, Citrix, SQL, Exchange, Oracle, SAP etc. All that data is critical. Does that customer not need high class storage which gives high performance, gives high efficiency and does disaster recovery (DR)? He does. So NetApp actually doesn't make multiple products. We have the FAS and V series of storage solutions. These systems are different in terms of capacity and processing power but are unified in their operating system.

Aditi Technologies from Bangalore bought NetApp FAS 2000 series from us. What do they run? They have SQL, Exchange, Sharepoint implemented on top of HyperV making them one of the first customers in India to do so. All this is running on a FAS 2040 storage system. See, if you look at storage, people have a general opinion that it is a dumb device. Also, it is an expensive proposition for customers, considering the fact that you can pick up a 3TB hard disk from Croma for much less. However, what we provide is an 'intelligent system'. We've included stuff like application integration and efficiency. So what happens is all the applications are directly integrated into the storage like their backup and DR. At the same time we also provide features to make multiple copies of databases efficiently, to do DR and take snapshots. And, adding to that is great algorithms for caching which in turn provides high performance.

With FAS 2200 series customers also get the latest version of Data Ontap operating system: 8.1.1. It includes something called 'clustering' which is different from the standard clustering because now it can scale up to 24 nodes. With this clustering, even if you are a mid-size enterprise, as you grow and the storage demands increase, you can add another new system online and discard the old system. As a result operations become 'immortal' because you really do not need to worry about operations getting affected while customising storage with FAS 2200 series.

How are cloud services connected with SAN? How is NetApp enabling midsize businesses take advantage of cloud services?

I just want to demystify something. Cloud can have either NAS or SAN both. We support customers in two ways by building a cloud infrastructure for 'Tata Communications' or moving only their services to the cloud like how we did for 'Vakil Housing'. We have solutions for both of them.

We offer our storage to big clients like Tata communications and provide them with the ability to provide any application service to any customer. Secondly, our storage can be partitioned logically into secure zones for each customer called 'secure multi-tenancy', which is just like having multiple apartments in a building and every apartment can only be opened by the owners of that apartment. And finally, because of the efficiency we provide the customer can overprovision and make more money. The company might have purchased 100 terabytes from us but they are selling a petabyte, which is great for them.

We also have solutions for smaller customers who want to buy storage from us but are wary of spending a lot of money. NetApp identifies the cloud-ready applications and connects them to one of the cloud-service partners we work with.

In short we help the customer in finding the right CapEx or OpEx model and we can provide them with an extremely efficient service while moving to a cloud-based environment.

The storage trends for 2012 in India lean towards adoption of storage virtualisation. What are the trends that you observe?

I think NetApp spotted this trend early. Many years back, we introduced the 'V' series. With the V 3210, 3240 etc. we do not provide any disks. It has only the controller.

What does the customer do in this case? We show our potential customers that their EMC, HP etc. system is massively inefficient. It probably doesn't have NAS, application integration or deduplication. So, V series grabs the existing storage system and provides all the great features of our solution like deduplication, DR or application integration on the existing storage solution. The V series has been one of the highest selling systems for us.

The advantage is that we can provide customers, who have already invested a lot of money on infrastructure, new features at just an incremental cost. Competition like HP asks you to get rid of your EMC solution and buy a boatload of stuff from them to avail new features. We do not do that. We provide customers with our system on an existing storage solution like HP, EMC, Hitachi etc. and virtualise your storage.

Leading CIO's seem to be concerned about data backup and recovery. Is NetApp doing anything in this space?

In the year 2000, we introduced a feature called 'snapvault'. With this feature, customers need to do only a single backup for the rest of the life of the application. After that the customer does incremental backups. But each incremental is a full backup. I know it is confusing, let me explain. The initial (primary) backup involves snapvault backing up the specified/entire data in a traditional fashion which is the first copy. After that the system takes a snapshot from both the existing data and the backup data and system checks what has changed since the last backup. Post that, it adds only the changed blocks of data to the backup data. As a result each incremental backup becomes a full backup.

A customer in the manufacturing vertical from Bangalore said tape is only an insurance policy for us. They did not hope to recover 200TB of data in case of a disaster. We did not want them to lose their tapes and asked them to continue using tapes as an insurance policy. They replaced EMC with NetApp. At any point of time they have 90 days backup on disk which translates to 90 snapshots. When the 91st snapshot is taken the 1st one gets deleted. They continue to maintain tape backups, which has to be sent to a base in Madurai, for 10 years. But as far as recovery is concerned, they just want data to last for 90 days. If and when disaster occurs, the entire database/application can be restored in about 10-15 minutes.

We have implemented the same for hundreds of customers. Honeywell, Infosys, Kotak Mahindra, HDFC Standard Life are only some of the examples.

Another major trend storage experts seem to be tracking is storage as a service. Does it have a market in India?

NetApp definitely considers Storage as a Service as a huge trend in India and consider it as an advantage for us. We don't provide clients with this service but we provide them with the most efficient, secure and robust storage solution. Customers are buying tonnes of storage and we profit from that. Customers in India want to jump on to this trend by at least moving file services, e-mail, small SQL databases and test systems to the cloud.

IDC's quarterly storage survey (global for the month of March) revealed that NetApp is losing considerable market share. What is the scenario in India?

I am not authorised to answer this question.

What does NetApp really do to tackle 'Big Data' issues? Do you only provide the storage solutions or does Data Ontap also provide some kind of BI?

We acquired a company last year called 'Engenio'. There is logic behind that. When a customer doesn't want application integration solution and uses Hadoop implementation, primarily the 'E' series is the storage system for them although they might keep their metadata on the FAS system. However, customers who run standard applications go for the FAS system. We have solutions for both of them.

Oracle is eager to capitalize on the storage solutions market and claim that enterprises are looking for end to end solution providers, who cater to the processes right from the point of generation of data all the way up to storing and managing it, rather than stand alone storage management providers. Do you agree with this view?

Historically it has failed. If that was true, companies like VMware, NetApp, EMC and Cisco wouldn't have even existed. IBM has slowly turned into a service company and its primary focus used to be products. HP is still finding its identity and Oracle is confused about its identity.

What we believe is that necessity drives innovation. When the downturn happened, customers said we want more efficient storage and we know customers whose IT budgets have been halved in the last three years. Hence, they do not want a big, bulky solution but the most efficient solution.

Integrated solutions with the best of breed will continue to dominate the market rather than a mediocre solution which is a 'one man show'. That is why the uptake for our 'flexpod' solution is huge. The best server which can be made for virtualisation includes Cisco UCS, Cisco Nexus switching, VMware, Cirtix, Microsoft HyperV and NetApp Flexpod.

Finally, if I am not mistaken 'flash pools' with DATA Ontap 8 allows for using SSD as flash acceleration for traditional storage. Firstly, isn't that an expensive proposition for the market you are targeting? And secondly, how would it be even remotely helpful if the expensive storage can be used only for caching and not 'persistent storage'?

About 3-4 years back we introduced a feature called 'flash cache' which is a read-only cache which you put in any NetApp system. We used NVRAM for blinding fast first-writes in cache. However, if there is an overwrite it goes directly to the disk and can have some latency. As a result with Data Ontap 8.1.1, we introduced 'flash pool' which can have some SSD drives restricted to chosen applications. The first-write goes to NVRAM and the subsequent writes go to the SSD drive. Customers don't have to buy many SSD's. They just need a few to perform this operation only for mission critical apps like SAP.

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