Over the last couple of months as I have watched EMC and NetApp's bidding war unfold for Data Domain it seemed to me that many folks have forgotten what got NetApp to where they are today. Dave Hitz and his team came up with a great idea for a Keep It Simple file storage system. They executed their plan well, and brought to market a niche solution that grew into a $3 Billion dollar a year company. When I met Dave in 1998, NetApp was selling the FAS630's and about to come out with the F700 series filers. The FAS630's suffered from a power supply problem, and many of them were retired after a few years, but many F740's and F760's are still running strong and reliably. The DEC Alpha processors were awesome, and those early versions of OnTap were slim and efficient.
How many other servers, routers and other network devices do you know of that are still reliably serving content to customers 10 years after they were delivered? Dave Hitz' team developed an incredibly reliable device and the market embraced it.
But NetApp diversified as it grew and now looks toward acquisitions rather than internal product development. As this article highlights:
"In the process of losing its bidding battle with EMC for de-duplication market leader Data Domain, Network Appliance (NetApp) has exposed its weakness in the de-duplication (de-dupe) market sector. It had previously developed its own technology (A-SIS) but evidently accepted that Data Domain provided a better bet. "
If I were in charge of NetApp, I would bring Dave back into the lab and let him and his team create a new reliable platform that will deliver data reliably well in to the next decade. Keep It Simple, and make it reliable, and customers will return to NetApp again and again.
If Dave can create a category killer like the F700 series again I think the future will be bright for NetApp.