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John Wrobel, Vice President of Cloud Data Services, Sales and Business Development, has been with NetApp for just over three years. He came on board when NetApp cloud solutions were just emerging, and now, NetApp is a cloud company - making projects viable that enterprises never imagined were a possibility in the cloud. When we caught up with Wrobel recently, he spoke enthusiastically about the success of the Microsoft partnership and how NetApp is continuing to transform for the future.
“At NetApp, we are driven by the needs of our customers. Our customers continue to innovate. They demand more from us; we rise to meet their demands. They wanted our technology in Azure; we became a cloud company. NetApp continues to transform and build to empower our customers.”
- John Wrobel, Vice President, Cloud Data Services, Sales and Business Development, NetApp
Q: What is different about NetApp today, relative to NetApp three years ago?
NetApp is investing based on opportunity. The cloud is opportunity—the cloud is relevant. We have been actively working with Microsoft, and now there’s a significant NetApp presence at many of the shows - MS Inspire, Ready, Ignite, and, most recently, at multiple SAP events. We’re there in a big way because there is a huge opportunity at those shows to grow the amount of awareness in the customer base. The investment is indicative. We're here to change people's way of thinking—NetApp is very relevant in the cloud; the cloud is opportunity.
Q: Why is NetApp still thought of as a legacy storage provider?
This is an old idea and we wrestle with it a lot. Yes, we were on-prem storage specialists. The emphasis is on were. Now we are a cloud data services company. We specialize in cloud storage. We’ve taken our decades of data storage expertise, the high security and customer service standards that customers expect from NetApp, the smooth user-experience—all of it—we’ve taken it all to the cloud. This is a new paradigm for customers to understand.
Q: NetApp has formed an essential partnership with Microsoft. Can you talk a little more about the Microsoft relationship?
I was actually part of driving the initial partnership conversation. Azure had a gap in their storage portfolio around NFS (Network File System). We wrestled with how we could fill in the NFS gap. The thinking was to help MSFT with their technology gap and subsequently give our joint customers the benefit of ONTAP technology native to Azure.
NetApp always had a forward-looking view of trying to partner with Microsoft—we wanted to stay relevant, and Microsoft is a major player. From Microsoft’s perspective, they believed that NetApp could fill their storage gaps. Those discussions yielded a unique partnership that made sense for both companies, and Azure NetApp Files was born.
Q: Talk to me about Azure NetApp Files. Why is it so unique?
Azure NetApp Files is one of two first-party services in Azure. It has a unique design construct and is a solution that didn’t exist in the industry until we created it. It makes storing, accessing, and working with big data in Azure possible. It spins up fast, it's elastic, it's secure—it's everything you want in a cloud service.
Last year it was in preview. We received lots of positive feedback. Now Azure NetApp Files is in GA, with hundreds of customers and a ton of capacity being managed. We keep hearing how Azure NetApp Files is enabling projects to run in the cloud that organizations never thought possible.
Q: Repsol and another oil & gas company were on the main stage at Ignite. Do those companies represent the general customer perspective?
Yes, I think so. I think the customers’ perspective of Azure NetApp Files is straightforward; we are solving for workloads that previously could not have been run inside of Azure. In the case of these companies, they adopted a cloud-first strategy, and they needed to move their NFS and SMB application sets to the cloud while still achieving the same levels of enterprise-class performance. With Azure NetApp Files, they are running the same technology that they used to run on-premises in the Azure cloud, and to better results. Before Azure NetApp Files, that wasn’t a reality.
Both organizations have plans now to expand Azure NetApp Files for a broad set of workloads, including production systems, staging environments, disaster recovery, and more.
Repsol had challenges deploying specific workloads that weren’t possible in Azure before Azure NetApp Files. Repsol’s another happy customer.
Q: Are Microsoft Azure customers catching on to Azure NetApp Files’ benefits?
Microsoft sellers and customers are beginning to understand what the design construct is and how much Azure NetApp Files can support cloud-first strategies. They are increasing awareness and adoption.
But there is still an opportunity to better plug into those Microsoft partners who don’t yet know that the same opportunities and performance as having core business infrastructure on-premises exists for partners in the cloud. The reseller is one component—also migration services and managed services. The opportunity for innovation, for agility, is higher for our partners in the cloud.
Q: What’s next for NetApp?
We’ll continue to expand our use-case portfolio. We now have strategic workloads for Azure—HPC, SAP, VDI, and Azure VM Service (AVS).
NetApp will keep its forward momentum. We’re doing transformation right. Customers keep innovating and asking for more—NetApp continues to transform and build and empower our customers with the best cloud storage available.