Suppose you always hear in the church "Jesus is our Lord and true God," and one day they say to you, "But Allah is also cool, we will give him his due." Here's the story, how I fell into some kind of heresy, and decided that NetApp should do and sell another SAN in addition to the NAS. Moreover, my companion and co-founder of NetApp, James Lau, was one of our first heretics! It may seem strange that I cite such “strong” analogies for some technical things, but it seems to me that the analogy is very close, and this process has always caused a lot of heated debate, even within our company, although we are in ourselves, as far as I it is known that no one was stoned, they were not crucified and did not blow up.
That's how it all happened.
NAS means Network-Attached Storage, “Network Storage,” while SAN stands for Storage Area Network, “Storage Network.” Based on the names, you can conclude that this is about the same thing - both of them are for storage, and both are of networks. There is a classic high-end / low-end situation. Initially, SAN was better suited for high-end users, but it was also significantly more expensive. The NAS was cheaper, grew rapidly and improved in its capabilities, and besides it also had great prospects for its growth and improvement.
Looking back, I see that there were some obvious motives for us to do SAN systems too. Yes, and some market analysts have advised us the same. Of course, the same analysts asserted that the growth of the NAS market would soon stop, even though we doubled our growth in this market every year, so we were skeptical about these prophecies.
Another sign that it was time for us to expand the capabilities of our systems was the story of one of our clients. Jason was our longtime supporter and supporter of the NAS concept. He liked NAS as a storage architecture, and he used them for storage always and everywhere, even if the application vendor recommended using SAN. But at one of our client meetings, he got up and said, “Dave, I would like your guys to do SAN support.”
I was amazed. “Jason, but you’ve always been using NAS, why did you suddenly need a SAN?”
"Well, that's what's the matter," - answered Jason - "We use some application, not that it is even too important for us, but I have to support it, and we have some strange problems with it. I turned to the manufacturer, but they said: “We do not support working with NAS, and we will not help you with setting up our application until you start using SAN.” “I’m even sure,” Jason added, “that the problem is not at NAS, it’s just the guys are looking for a way to get rid of me. I went to our procurement department, with the offer to buy for this task Some small SAN system, but they don’t want to start a new vendor and a new supplier. That's the trouble. They say, “Well, NetApp is a manufacturer of storage, can they not sell us a SAN? If they can't, then find a vendor who can do both NAS and SAN, then we will buy all the storages from them. ”
“So,” added Jason, “you will greatly simplify my life if you can make a SAN stack”
Actually the decision was said, but I did not want to listen to him. It was not what I thought was right, I was sure that the NAS was better. It is cheaper, it works better, and so on, that was my conviction.
NetApp created the NAS market, and the NAS market fueled our success, and we were always its main supporter and promoter. On a more personal level, for many years I was a public "NAS person." At all seminars and conferences, all our competitors promoted SAN, and I went on stage to describe what and why NAS is better. I talked about how low-end technologies set the market in motion, about the shortcomings and doom of the SAN, and how the current situation resembles the story of mainframes that were piled up, ultimately low-end solutions, cheap personal computers. It is difficult to take on the opposite course on the fly and start refuting everything that so often has been publicly proved in words.
Nevertheless, James (James Lau, co-author and co-founder of NetApp) also believed that we should deal with SAN. James is generally the kind of person who always seems to be right, but often keeps quiet about his position. He will express his opinion in order to see how they will react to him, and if they do not heed his opinion, well, he will quietly stay with him, without insisting on his own. Sometimes I even joked that I was his press secretary, because great ideas came to him, and I bring them to the public and “punch through”, repeating to everyone over and over until they listen to them. I knew that our disagreements with James often arise only because one of us knows something that the other does not know. And we sat down to argue.
My arguments were based on the fact that the NAS systems market is growing and growing at a fairly high rate. Many of our employees came to us precisely because they believed in the potential of NAS in the storage market. We positioned ourselves in the eyes of the market and customers as a company engaged in a new direction, rather than traditional solutions. Our sales staff were guided by the “SAN - bad” rule.
In addition, the SAN market was huge and crowded. We would have to come to him as a new and start-up company, without authority and a name in this segment, the most unfortunate situation, and we would have to play “on the siege” of the “big guys” for a very long time. Those resources that we could spend on building our own SAN systems could be more efficiently spent on further improving our already very good NAS systems at that time. Does it make sense to risk our success and the position of the NAS market leader by doing what we thought was worse?
Arguing with me, James argued that the SAN market is huge, and it is significantly larger than the NAS market, while many “big” companies that could be our customers still did not even consider us and our systems seriously because they considered that "NAS is something for home users and small businesses." If we make SAN support, we can at least “get through the door” there. Finally, he thought, most of the work that we have to do and spend the company’s time and money on them will be useful for the NAS.
Since we entered the “big solutions” market, our customers and users have all the time asked us to do one or another opportunity existing in a high-end SAN in our NAS systems, adding the ability to work in a SAN against this background it was not such a big task compared to all the other things that we would have to do in order to satisfy the demands of our customers.
And we argued for quite some time.
Dan, our CEO (Dan Wormenhoven, permanent CEO of NetApp until 2009), wanted to get an opinion of the company's board of directors about this situation with SAN and NAS, so he asked James and me to tell our points of view on the problem. Most CEOs of companies try to protect board members from internal “technical fights” of the company (leaving them with only business), but Dan’s position has always been open and honest with the board, so he was brave enough to invite the two company founders to discuss the issue in their presence .
And I remember Don Valentine (head of Sequoia Capital, the famous investment company Silicon Valley, which initially financed many startups, from Google and Apple to NetApp) , the chairman of our board of directors, asked me “Are your users asking you to make a SAN?”
“Yes,” I replied.
It was shortly after the famous “dot-com crisis”, and Don’s point of view was simple: “You know, in our business, if someone gives you money, I recommend that you take it.”
This clarity of presentation explains why Don Valentine is an excellent chairman of the board of directors.
So James was right, but I was not. "