NetApp has promoted Tom Georgens to the COO slot and in doing so has demonstrated it's keen to get a move on.
Georgens joined from LSI when the planned and much-delayed state of independence for storage business Engenio was pulled by incoming CEO Abhi Talwalkar leaving Georgens, the then putative Engenio CEO, with effective demotion to running an LSI business unit. He jumped ship and surfaced at NetApp in October 2005. This turned out to be a very astute move with an excellent fit between him and the NetApp culture.
Firstly he was EVP and GM of enterprise storage systems. Then, 14 months after joining, he became EVP of product operations. Now, one year later, he becomes president and COO. Perhaps he has already had the sweet pleasure of asking ex-employer LSI why NetApp should take its drive arrays.
"Well", says Abhi T in an imaginary conversation, "as you know they are excellent products and, dammit, you know about them, warts and all."
NatApp CEO Dan Warmenhoven had to move NetApp veteran Tom Mendoza out of the president's position. Why? I mean, why make Georgens president? Wasn't COO a good enough title? Did he want to make it clear that Georgens is his chosen successor?
Whatever the reason, Mendoza had to be moved sideways and given a high-sounding title for a now non-operational role but still reporting direct to Warmenhoven, as Georgens does. Mendoza becomes the company's vice-chairman. There is already a chairman, of the board, Don Valentine, but Mendoza isn't on the board and doesn't report to him.
Isn't it a tad sad that title inflation is rampant at the upper levels of companies?
What does Mendoza do? The company statement has Warmenhoven praising him lavishly and saying he will focus on customer advocacy, partnering with NetApp sales and channel partners to deliver more value to customers and championing the company's values and leadership to a growing employee population. Okay, an evangelist with the CEO's ear.
There's a little more detail; Mendoza will be the champion of customer concerns, bringing them back into NetApp to shape product development efforts and spot emerging enterprise trends. Hmm. It smacks a little of make-work for a highly-valued colleague who has, regretfully, had to be effectively put out to non-operational grass.
Georgens has done well. Warmenhoven lavished praise on him as well, saying he had: "led the largest rollout of new products in our company's history and expanded our software portfolio, giving our customers greater efficiency, flexibility, and functionality in their data centers. Combining a truly flagship R&D engine in product operations with the sales, marketing, and service expertise in our field operations organization allows us to bring greater focus to our execution. "
There seem to be three big challenges in the product field for Georgens. One is a hinted at application of de-duplication to primary storage. Secondly, there is the flash memory solid state disk issue. The third one is a response to clustered file systems from suppliers such as Isilon, whose products claim to be faster, cheaper and more scalable than NetApp's ONTAP GX ones.
There is another aspect to the clustered file system conundrum though; that is the emerging massively scalalable systems needed by the web 2.0 and cloud computing suppliers. Is NetApp going to be a player in this market, one characterised by Sun CTO Greg Paadopolous as 'red-shift' computing?
Another thing that NetApp has to resolve is the ZFS lawsuit against Sun. NetApp is, in many ways, a boy scout, velvet glove company, but there is an iron fist at its heart and at its top and that man doesn't give in easily. I don't know what he thinks of pony tails but this has elements of Boston and east coast USA versus laid-back California.
This is ironic as StorageTek, the original target, was also an east coast style business. Even more ironic, ex-StorageTek CEO Pat Martin and Dan Warmenhoven probably have a fair amount of respect for each other as business leaders. I don't what Warnmenhoven feels for Jonathan Schwartz but I somwhat doubt if there is initial recognition of each other' business qualities in it.
Warmenhoven hasn't promoted Georgens just to keep his chair seat warm. EMC has been making the storage market leadership perception running for several months now and is proving adept at pre-announcing coming new products. This must be excessively irksome to Netapp execs, convinced as they are of NetApp's product excellence.
I wouldn't be at all surprised if NetApp pulls some cats out of its product bag quite quickly. Hulk, Maui, pony tails, bah!! Just wait.