Network Appliance is a phenomenon. It emerged from the early years of network-attached storage (NAS) technology development as the pre-eminent filer company while lesser companies went to the wall. Then it focused on the enterprise and avoided NAS commodity hell, as it added data protection features such as snapshots to its core operating system, Data ONTAP 7G, with its WAFL (Write Anywhere File Layout) technology. The O/S provides virtualised storage, has had iSCSI SAN capability added and NetApp has expanded into the Fibre Channel SAN space.

It bought Decru to add a data encryption facility to its offering, though not integrated into Data ONTAP, but provided as an in-line box, the DataFort, on a customer's network. It bought Spinnaker and has added clustering of its products via a separate version of Data ONTAP, termed GX. Then it bought Topio for that company's well-respected any-to-any replication technology. It has also added a de-duplcation capability to Data ONTAP.

On the relationship front, NetApp has a relationship with Kazeon for content classification and indexing. There is also an OEM relationship whereby IBM supplies NetApp as N-Series products.

NetApp has until very recently, maintained an almost unerringly constant growth rate of above 20 percent in revenues. However, the most recent quarter saw NetApp's revenue growth rate fall to 11 percent and the results statement was preceded by two statements as the company reset Wall Street analyst expectations downwards. It was a shock and helped focus attention on the fact that NetApp has a host of competitors, many of who are selling storage technology at lower prices than NetApp.

NetApp competition

EMC is NetApp's prime competitor and, it seems fair to judge, is competing in a stable way with neither company capable of seriously impacting the other in the pure disk-based storage market concerned with Fibre Channel and iSCSI storage area networks (SAN), and NAS. Outside that confine EMC is undoubtedly the stronger overall with its backup products from Legato and Dantz, content-related Documentum, security products from RSA, outstandingly successful VMware, content-addressable Centera storage product and multiple other products.

It is reasonable to form an impression that EMC is far more successful buyer of other companies and technologies than NetApp; contrast VMware and Spinnaker for example, and that EMC has little chance of being knocked off its top storage dog perch by what seems like the storage world's permanent number two, NetApp.

Across the disk-based storage universe there are a seeming host of smaller companies jostling around various parts of NetApp's product range. For example:-

- Clustered filers - Isilon (now post-IPO)
- Unified SAN/NAS storage - 3PAR, Pillar Data
- Very high-performance NAS - BlueArc, ExaNet
- iSCSI SANs (with added NAS) - EquaLogic, Left Hand Networks, Compellent
- File storage virtualisation - Acopia (recently bought), PolyServe, Ibrix
- De-duplication - Data Domain, Diligent, Avamar, FalconStor, Sepaton, Quantum and more
- Virtual Tape Libraries - Sepaton, FalconStor (EMC, Sun, IBM)
- Thin-provisioning - 3PAR, DataCore, (plus established players like HDS and HP -adaptive provisioning)

Some of these competitors have completed or are seeking IPOs as their results and a buoyant storage market persuade them and their backers that they can now successfully grow as public corporations.

NetApp's way of adding technology

NetApp doesn't use either commodity Unix or Windows as its core O/S. Unlike EMC which does not have a core O/S but maintains several independent code bases for its quite wide collection of products, NetApp believes that having a single code base makes it easier for its customers to own and manage its storage products, add new ones or migrate between them.

This means that, as a new storage technology comes along, NetApp has quite an absorption job to do because it as to understand how to implement the technology without upsetting the functions and performance of its existing products. It's no use, for example, adding A-SIS de-duplication if it stops Flexclone technology working.

Consequently, when a new storage technology comes along then NetApp has a harder job introducing it, in its integrated way, than a supplier who adds a point product by either reselling it - HDS with Diligent de-duplication - or by buying it as a continuing company - EMC with Avamar.

Techworld has discussed how NetApp responds to new technologies with John Rollason, NetApp's EMEA solutions marketing manager.