If NetApp is going to save itself – see How doomed is NetApp? – it needs to change the way it’s doing business and how it thinks about its customers. Or it can continue as it is and accelerate into oblivion.

NetApp’s problem
NetApp is essentially a single-product line company, and that product line is less and less relevant to customer needs. There’s faster block and SAN storage and much cheaper object storage in the cloud and on-prem. NetApp is in a sour spot, not a sweet one.

Here’s what NetApp needs to do to regain momentum.

Embrace multiple product lines. OnTap, while competitive in no growth legacy applications, is not competitive with modern scale out object storage systems. NetApp needs more arrows in its quiver.

NetApp could learn from EMC, a company that has developed almost no products – Atmos is the exception that comes to mind – itself in the last 20 years. Instead, EMC buys sector leaders and pushes them through its enterprise sales channel. Both Isilon and Data Domain have major architectural flaws compared to more modern products, but EMC’s sales clout wins the day.

Embrace scale out storage. NetApp made a brilliant move when they purchased object storage pioneer Bycast. The Canadian company suffered from timid marketing thanks to a traditional Canadian reluctance to toot one’s own horn. Overcommitment to CDMI hasn’t helped either.

But Bycast had a strong foothold in medical imaging and a great story: a Bycast installation survived Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans without any data loss. Haven’t heard that story? You, and everyone else.

Buy Avere. Avere’s product is an intelligent front end cache for multiple NetApp filers. It simplifies filer management by keeping hot data local and eliminating the need to balance hot files across multiple filers.

But when you buy it, don’t try to integrate it with OnTap. It is a network device, and needs to be sold as such.

Pump up the channel. Easier said than done, but NetApp has to get ready for a lower margin future, and embracing the channel is the easiest way to start. More will need to be done – products that need less support thanks to automated support for instance – but getting lean and mean is table stakes for our brave new storage world.

The StorageMojo take
Despite the fact that NetApp stopped talking to me several years ago – except for a recent briefing invite – I still like them and wish them well. Thus this advice.

With a well-regarded global brand and a broad enterprise presence, NetApp has assets that startups can only dream of. But so did DEC, Sun and Kodak, and bad management frittered those assets away.

NetApp’s urgently needs a strategy reboot. Whether the new management team is up to the task remains to be seen. I hope they are.

Comments welcome, as always.