M&A: NetApp grabs SolidFire

This one has been in the rumor mill for a while. NetApp has been needing something to play well in the all flash array space, and it now has something.

This said, the array space is very much on the decline certainly with respect to dumb JBODs and smart “filer heads”. That design is being retired in favor of smarter and hyperconverged systems. Such as Unison with Ceph, Forte, and related HCI (hyper converged infrastructure) systems. Solidfire, Pure, Kaminairo, Tegile, Tintri and other very well funded array makers are eating EMC and NetApp’s lunch. In a market which is declining in toto, though the flash portion is growing entirely at the expense of the disk portion.

The hyperconverged players (well, the real ones, the ones with hardware as well as software) are all growing at the expense of the array market, as the storage/networking and virtualization/containerization all play well and make for a more modern scale out architecture. The hyperscalers are doing what they do, and unless you are a hyperscaler yourself, you probably shouldn’t be trying to emulate them. Everything is now software-defined, we call this trend Software Defined Appliances or SDA, and they allow you to programmatically add functionality/capability, and control configuration via API calls or similar. SDS (Software Defined Storage) is just a small part of the overall SDA ecosystem.

What NetApp has done has been to buy their way into flash arrays with a meaningful product (not the FlashRay). This is all well and good, but Dell/EMC, Cisco, HPE, et al are all aiming at fully integrated stacks, which will effectively exclude external suppliers. The old guard has been and continues to be up-ended by the new young turks. Whom are themselves worried about the HCI players. As they should be.

What NetApp needs to do is to find and buy a real (not software only) HCI player that they can take around to counter Cisco, Dell/EMC, HPE. They need servers, switching (not FC, but real GbE/IB), management, monitoring, Command and Control, etc.

So this is an interesting acquisition, but not likely the last NetApp needs to do. OTOH, there are quite a few flash players in market, with precious little to really distinguish them. Pure is public, the other private ones are likely looking to find a nice home. In a market with far fewer buyers, and less appetite for IPOs for “Silicon Valley” financials like Violin. I do expect the public players like Pure to start going after HCI.

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