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NetApp sings to Solidfire: All I want for Christmas is buying you

I just want you for my own, more than you could ever know. Make my wish come true ...

NetApp is buying SolidFire to get scale-out all-flash arrays for cloud provider-like use cases – the sort of use cases that are closed to NetApp's all-flash E-Series and ONTAP systems.

The acquisition was rumored this month, and had a $1.2bn price tag attached to it.

NetApp is paying $870m in cash for SolidFire, a move confirmed in the past few minutes.

CEO George Kurian said: "SolidFire combines the performance and economics of all-flash storage with a webscale architecture that radically simplifies data center operations and enables rapid deployments of new applications. We look forward to extending NetApp’s flash leadership with the SolidFire team, products and partner ecosystem, and to accelerating flash adoption through NetApp’s large partner and customer base.”

SolidFire, based in Boulder, Colorado, was founded by CEO Dave Wright in 2010 with $1m in seed funding. Three VC fundraising rounds – the last an $82m injection – took its total funding to $150m. The result has been an SF-series of products running Elements OS, now in its eighth major release. SolidFire focuses on helping cloud providers prevent any one tenant demanding excessive resources – the “noisy neighbor” problem.

The systems have an unlimited wear guarantee, and the Elements software is available on its own to hyperscale customers.

SolidFire's Wright said nothing surprising about the acquisition of his company by NetApp: “We look forward to enhancing NetApp’s position within the all-flash array market while helping NetApp and SolidFire customers and partners succeed.”

NetApp AFA history

A few years ago, all-flash array startups like Kaminario, Nimbus Data, Pure Storage, SolidFire, Whiptail, and Violin Memory pioneered a new storage system market, offering data access that disk systems could not match, however many disk drive spindles they used.

When it became clear these startups had technology customers needed, the mainstream vendors had to choose whether to add flash to their disk-based legacy arrays, build their own flash arrays, or buy a startup.

EMC, IBM, and Cisco bought startups; XtremIO, Texas Memory Systems, and Whiptail, respectively. The EMC and IBM business gobbles panned out. The Cisco one crashed in flames.

Dell, HDS, and HP decided to extend their technology by adding flash chips. HDS and HP look strong in their flash offerings, while Dell has since signed a reseller deal with SolidFire.

NetApp decided to add all-flash configurations to its ONTAP fabric-attached storage systems and its E-Series of gear, as well as develop its own brand new FlashRay technology with an operating system called Mars.

The FlashRay effort, initiated with near-revolutionary fervor, was a fiasco. The only deliverable was a test system with a single controller. NetApp closed this development effort down, and moved the FlashRay assets into the ONTAP team. FlashRay engineering lead Brian Pawlowski quit and joined Pure Storage.

However, Tom Georgens, who was NetApp’s CEO during this inglorious episode, has since been ousted, primarily for failing to reverse a NetApp multi-quarter revenue decline, and George Kurian has replaced him.

Here's how NetApp's three groups of all-flash arrays stand today:

  • For the traditional enterprise infrastructure buyer, the NetApp All Flash FAS (AFF) product line.
  • For the application owner, the NetApp EF Series product.
  • For the next-generation infrastructure buyer, SolidFire’s webscale hardware.

NetApp says the acquisition "enables customers to accelerate third platform use cases and webscale economics. SolidFire is an active leader in the cloud community with extensive integrated storage management capabilities with OpenStack, VMware, and other cloud frameworks."

It now has a cloud service provide customer base and can build on SolidFire's penetration into enterprises which have cloud provider-like needs. Kurian has made his first big move, and customers should like it as should NetApp’s channel.

It seems SolidFire is going to be run as an independent business unit, with no integration into ONTAP, which would have produced some kind of mutant SolidTAP or Data ONFIRE product. SolidFire boss Dave Wright will lead the SolidFire product line within NetApp’s product operations.

NetApp says that, over time, SolidFire products will be incorporated into its data fabric strategy, "delivering seamless data management across flash, disk and cloud resources."

Will SolidFire employees, especially those fueled with stock options, want to stay and work for NetApp? And that question applies to Wright as well, who is now an employee after running his own ship for several years.

Reg comment

NetApp now has a much stronger flash offering, and can put the FlashRay debacle behind it. We'll be looking for an immediate uplift to its revenues and expect it will be able to better withstand competitive all-flash array incursion attempts into its base. That base will now be a more difficult target for other flash storage vendors to attack.

The company will hope that SolidFire products extend its total addressable market, and not simply replace potential EF-series and AFF 8000 sales.

We can expect SolidFire and NetAppp channel unification, and the fairly swift ending of the Dell-SolidFire reselling deal.

The acquisition is expected to close in NetApp's fourth fiscal 2016 quarter, or in other words, by the end of April 2016. ®

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