More than 3,500 partner delegates arrived in Berlin this week to attend NetApp's Insight event - a technical event aimed at customers and partners. During the event, CRN caught up with NetApp's UK managing director Elliot Howard (pictured above).
Can you give us an update on what is happening in the UK business at the moment? What are you seeing, and what's the latest from your partner community?
Things are progressing well and we are working more closely with our key partners and it is starting to pay dividends. There has been a maturing in our data fabric messaging - we're talking about 'data fabric now' [at the event] and how it is really resonating with our customers and partners. It is allowing us to differentiate away from the more mainstream flash-only vendors. As we started to get momentum in that space - talking about flash - we were moving away from the pack. We're holding our own very well and taking a strong number-two position.
Partners want to work with vendors who are bankable. We're NetApp and we're a big global brand; the first independent data company. That makes us dependable and bankable. I think we've gone through our troubles with our partners and now they are really pleased to see we are back. Our portfolio is really coming together. On the whole, the feedback from partners is very, very strong.
What do you mean when you say you're back? Are you referring to some of the criticism you took on flash prior to the acquisition of flash firm SolidFire?
SolidFire wasn't a flash acquisition, it was an acquisition to augment our software business. Fundamentally, at the heart of SolidFire is an incredibly strong operation system which obviously is where I think we see the differentiation. Data fabric is real and is being deployed in hundreds of customers. The SolidFire product gives us the ability to address multiple use cases, irrespective of it you want high performance in your enterprise or if you want to build a service model, or if you want something to give you huge scale. The portfolio can now address multiple use cases. We are no longer just a one-trick pony. That, for me, is where SolidFire gives us massive strength and depth.
Dell EMC has been extremely vocal in the last few months since the merger closed; keen to talk up its channel credentials, boasting that half of its business goes through partners. What do you think about that, and what do you think about the merger more generally?
I think it's called playing catch-up, isn't it? You need to look at the numbers. You've called it out yourself - 50 per cent of their business is through the channel. A much higher [proportion] of my business goes through the channel and we are pushing hard for more of it to go through the channel.
So let's let the numbers speak for themselves. Our channel model has been in place since day one. It's not something we are inventing because circumstance dictates that we should. We will continue to be loyal to our partners. Can a leopard change its spots?
You mentioned that NetApp is the "first independent data company", and this was echoed in this week's keynotes, where you seem to have been keen to move away from the idea of being the last independent storage company, as some have described you. Are you rebranding? Do you see yourself as a storage company anymore?
Data is the new gold and if you think about the world right now, you've got hundreds of millions of end-points using data and creating data. It's the collection and connection of that data which gives any enterprise an edge.
Fundamentally, with millennials having an attention span of three minutes, my point is that it is all about the experience, and if the experience isn't rich, and in context, people [turn off]. I watch my kids and if it's not instantaneous, they've moved on to something else. It amazes me. I think you've seen it today: our big play is around data and that's where we want to differentiate and our clients and partners need to think of us in a different way.
You personally, and the company in general, seem to be more bullish at this event than others I have been to. Is this a conscious decision and are you trying to shout more?
I haven't been here long enough to comment on what it was like three years ago - I have been here 20 months - but I do see a distinct change in attitude from being the nice guys in the corner, or being the nice NAS vendor, as I have called it in the past. We have a world-class portfolio and rightly so; we should be standing on top of the mountain shouting about it. All the numbers show that. There is no reason for us to be timid any more.
How have you seen your channel evolve? Do you see lots of new emerging types of partners, and how do they compare in number with traditional reseller partners?
I think the line is blurring. We see a lot of different technology VARs resdesign themselves so they are more cloud-like, and that gives everyone challenges - especially if you have stakeholders who are used to value being created in a certain way.
I think we're seeing some that are very successful at [transitioning] and some are struggling. In general, they are all trying to move to as-a-service. We see other partners you wouldn't have thought of coming in [to the channel]. There are more consultants and vendors coming into the consulting [space]. We're looking to build relationships in that area as they have influence. Obviously, there are service providers and they remain consistent for us. Then software vendors and ISVs who are going into the lines of business and pulling through technology. We're seeing some great successes. It's blurring - it is not one thing anymore.
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