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NetApp and Microsoft Have a Clear Vision for the Cloud

Anthony Lye, Senior Vice President & GM Cloud BU at NetApp, is not someone who likes to take all the credit. When we sat down with him recently to congratulate him on the success NetApp is enjoying as a cloud company, he quickly deflected kudos to his team and NetApp CEO George Kurian. He also spoke animatedly about how NetApp is continuing to innovate for the future.

“Success in the cloud for a company like NetApp is not easy. It’s hard work, and takes a great team and a great vision. We are fortunate here at NetApp to have both. I am working with dedicated professionals who are driven to execute with excellence, and George is an amazing visionary who supports and inspires his leadership team. I feel fortunate to be in the right place, at the right time, and with the right people to help make NetApp a cloud leader.”

- Anthony Lye, Senior Vice President & GM Cloud BU at NetApp

Q: What motivated you to take on the job of leading NetApp into the cloud?
A: That’s an interesting story. George (Kurian, NetApp CEO) left a message that he wanted to talk to me – and of course, you never ignore a call from a CEO. But I was curious. At the time, NetApp was a legacy storage company and I was a cloud guy – had been for 18 years. My colleagues and I had been building solutions in the cloud for almost two decades. We would never think of building using on-premises infrastructure. Why would NetApp want to talk with me? I was motivated by the enormous opportunity.

Q: Obviously, the meeting with George went well.
A: For me, it was transformational. George had a very clear vision about where NetApp needed to go and the role that the cloud would play. He had tremendous faith that NetApp could become one of the most dominant players in the cloud and knew that it would be both big and disruptive. I was a little bit surprised but very pleased that he was willing to let me lead this. I told him that we would need to operate like a start-up and that we would sometimes compete with NetApp’s existing business. His message was clear. Go forward. Go fast. Make us the industry leader in the cloud.

Q: You've established critical partnerships with the three largest cloud providers – AWS, Google, and Azure – but since we’re here at Ignite, can you talk a little more about the Microsoft relationship?
A: Only NetApp has relationships with the biggest cloud providers. Our Microsoft partnership is exciting. Microsoft may have been a little later getting to the cloud party than the other cloud providers, but since being there, they've risen to the top, and having won the $10B JEDI defense cloud contract, their position as a leader has strengthened.

Microsoft and NetApp have been partners for over two decades – Microsoft even uses NetApp internally. Our cloud partnership, specifically, started because cloud usage is changing. Companies see that the cloud is real now. At the start, the cloud was dominant for app developers. Now, the cloud is becoming the dominant platform for IT infrastructure. When we first met, Microsoft realized there were gaps in Azure from an IT use case perspective – most notably in big data storage. From their experience with us, they believe that NetApp could fill those gaps faster, adding a level of credibility and infrastructure that Microsoft had never had before.

Q: So, you came together to fill an industry gap for enterprise cloud?
A. Absolutely. Microsoft and NetApp co-created Azure NetApp Files, a native Azure service.
NetApp has an inside track at Microsoft. We are, for all intents and purposes, an engineering team within Microsoft. A solution, like Azure NetApp Files with its performance tiers, guaranteed uptime, and elasticity on the fly, was desperately needed, but it didn’t exist in the industry – so we created it.

As an example, Jedox, a Microsoft ISV for Enterprise Performance Management software company, implemented Azure NetApp Files to support their application in the cloud. Radu Ialovoi, Cloud Developer at Jedox, said, "Our solution built with Microsoft AKS and running on ANF is a perfect marriage," and that although Microsoft has a great technology in AKS, Jedox would be “lost without Azure NetApp Files” to deliver their software to their customers. Gap filled.

It’s been a long and challenging journey, one where we continually learn and grow. Microsoft and NetApp both know what we need to do. Together we have created a really good and aggressive roadmap.

Q: Who is driving the roadmap?
A. That’s the best part. It’s a roadmap driven by real customers exerting pressure on the system – like Jedox. That's exciting to me. We are learning from the customers, and each other, which is why Azure NetApp Files is one of Microsoft's fastest-growing services.

I think it is essential to recognize that innovation is a team sport, not an individual one. NetApp couldn't do it without the team – Microsoft, customers, partners. Without those people, it's just an idea.  Everyone is working extremely hard to be the best. It is challenging work, but we are changing the world.

Q: What is the most positive thing you’ve heard from customers about NetApp as a cloud company?
A. I keep hearing that NetApp is exceeding expectations – enabling projects that companies never thought possible. Customers repeatedly express a level of confidence in NetApp that they claim they don’t have with other companies. That means we’re doing things right.

Q: Do any other customer comments jump out?
A. Recently, at Microsoft Ignite, Juan Pedro Bretti Mandarano, the Digital Transformation Engineer, E&P at Repsol, joined both Microsoft and NetApp on-stage. He recounted that Repsol experienced some success moving simple workloads to the cloud; however, when they began to deploy their oil and gas reservoir simulation software, there was an immediate and severe performance degradation. The Microsoft and Repsol team tried several options to isolate where the problem originated. Juan Pedro told the audience that the storage was killing them.

Then Azure NetApp Files launched. Repsol now uses Azure NetApp Files to deploy its reservoir simulation. On stage, he said, “Azure NetApp Files saved our cloud project.” It's a massive vote of confidence that Repsol trusts our solution.

Q: It’s about trust, then?
A. I think so – trust in our team, trust in our solutions, trust in our security, trust in our commitment to innovation. Companies trust NetApp, and that instills confidence. NetApp is proving that we can attract the most significant workloads in the world – SAP, Oracle, SQL, MySQL. Companies wouldn’t trust us with these workloads without real scrutiny. We are running the world’s businesses, powering the world's ERP and eCommerce. That is a declaration that few companies ever get to make.

Q: Does the competition keep you up at night?
A. I worry more about continuing to execute at a high level and continuing to innovate more than I worry about what the competitors are up to. Our legacy competitors are lost – they don't have a story, platform, or partnerships. The reality is, if they wanted to come after NetApp, it would be a three-year problem because the barriers that we've established are quite high, and I believe we would still outpace them as we continue to innovate.

Q: Where is NetApp going next?
A. We’re going to continue to work hard to keep our place as industry leaders. We keep listening to our customers and what they need from us. Our SAP HANA certification is a gamechanger. When NetApp first got it on-premises many years ago, it was our most significant milestone. Now, with Azure NetApp Files, we are bringing that capacity to the cloud.   

The cloud is the future of computing. It opens computing up to everybody – from Fortune 100 companies to small start-ups. The little guys can compete with the big guys now that technology is democratized, and NetApp empowers them all. We're giving them a dial tone, if you will. When you pick up the phone, you don't question if it will work, you assume it will ring on the other end. That is the experience NetApp gives our customers – reliability so they can focus on innovation and don’t waste their time and money on administration.

Q: What NetApp has done is pretty remarkable. Is it luck, strategy, or execution?
A. It's funny – I don't think any of the analysts thought NetApp had a clue when we said we were going to the cloud; they thought going cloud would kill us. Now, NetApp is more balanced. We have a strong cloud and traditional on-premises portfolio. The analysts probably think it's luck. But, truthfully, too much intention, strategy, and hard work have gone into this for it to be considered luck. George knew precisely where he wanted NetApp to go in that first phone conversation. 

If you want to learn more about NetApp in the cloud, visit cloud.netapp.com

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