Last month I attended NetApp Insight 2016 in Berlin – the annual conference for NetApp clients, partners and storage professionals, – and was impressed by its strong focus on application development.
Storage underpins most technology systems and NetApp, being a long-time leader in the space, is embedded in quite a few of them. A number of really cool appliances ranging from video surveillance to large-scale analytical anomaly detection engines were showcased at the conference. Flexpod booth was a great attractor with new shiny and ever more powerful gear exposed to thousands of attendees. But there was also something new in the air.
One of the most apparent changes since the previous years is an increased DevOps and Developer appeal. Along with the traditional displays of various hardware appliance for storage and integrated solutions, this year Insight sported a Developer Café, a dedicated DevOps booth and yellow stickers on badges proclaiming that the bearer is a “DevOps Ambassador”.
People who stopped by the Developer café for a cup of coffee became an instant audience for round-the-clock sessions on Docker, Kubernetes, YAML, the topics that storage companies typically are not associated with. Storage plug-ins for Openstack and Kubernetes, along with data persistency for containers, took a center stage at the developer venues. This year alone NetApp has served as an active contributor to storage-related Openstack APIs and in addition authored a Kubernetes plug-in for its three main storage technologies (E-series, ONTAP and SolidFire).
The desire of NetApp to climb up the stack and to augment the traditional storage story from an application-driven angle was also apparent in the speaking sessions, of which many revolved around CI/CD, DevOps, hybrid data fabric for distributed applications and containers. The Apprenda platform was featured in several presentations on DevOps topics. The NetApp DevOps booth continuously showed a video recording of a demo of CI/CD pipeline with Apprenda on Openstack integrated with ONTAP 9. There were also several sessions dedicated to the same use case, which is now offered as a turn-key solution on Flexpod.
Developers are historically very remote from storage. The value of storage is oftentimes underestimated and poorly understood by the application development tier of the technology organization. Storage is taken for granted even despite the fact that when you loose your data, you are having a very bad day.
By the same token similar sentiments and attitudes are shared by storage admins toward application developers. These are probably the two most distant groups within any technology organization and the barriers between them have made it very difficult to communicate the value of integrated solutions that ultimately benefit both parties.
The emphasis of this year’s Insight on the developer topics sends a clear message that the traditional, application-agnostic approach to storage is becoming obsolete. NetApp has revamped its ONTAP API and is increasingly shifting focus to software driven storage solutions, which affects how storage value is now being communicated and sold. Every year at Insight the attendees can have their pictures taken with some NetApp paraphernalia: a Flexpod background, an ONTAP beer mug or just a fun hat with fake mustaches.
This year the most popular item for the photographs was a plastic tombstone with the sign: “RIP. Storage Admin.” Is it a sign of the new era of the app-driven storage automation that brings application developers a tad closer to storage and appreciation of its value? I sincerely hope so!