NetApp’s John Martin Explains How to Avoid Becoming a Cloud Casualty

DSA recently caught up with John Martin, NetApp’s Director of Strategy and Technology who has been working as part of the Office of the CTO for a quick interview. Currently based in Sydney, John is responsible for developing and advocating NetApp’s flash portfolio across the APAC region. 

John first stepped into NetApp in 2006 as a systems engineer. He was a principal of GRID IT prior to taking up the role at NetApp, where he built relationships with a variety of major storage vendors while also helping to start two storage-related businesses. He was also involved in senior pre-sales, consulting and training for Legato, Veritas, and StorageTek there.

He shared how his first experience at the Cloud Expo was an impressive one and he was really excited to see the diversity in all the countries represented there where the atmosphere was great with all the different vendors and exhibitors and the buzz of the whole environment was fantastic.

To a question on NetApp’s Data Fabric and how it helps companies with their own cloud aspirations, he explained that NetApp gives companies the option to move workloads across cloud platforms when and how they need to. This feature gives companies the freedom to decide what workloads they need on-premise or on the cloud and to move those workloads seamlessly when needed. Our takeaway from John’s explanation is that companies want to be able to spread their IT investment across on-premise IT as well on cloud platforms, sometimes public sometimes private. Data Fabric enables no compromise for on-premise storage with a consistent management platform even for cloud. Managing and moving data between platforms is difficult but the key for hybrid architectures, which is why it is such an important part of the NetApp Strategy.

We were particularly interested in understanding John’s take on the future. Did he see cloud as removing the need for on-premise IT.  Ultimately did he see a time when companies would abandon their own datacentre and place everything in public and private managed clouds?

In short, John felt that total adoption of cloud at the expense of no on-premise IT is unlikely to happen. Only a small number of companies will make that decision and stick to it.  He pointed out that cloud is already a part of our lives and is a reality for most companies. We expect to access cloud-based application via handheld devices and phones and that trend will continue. To John’s way of thinking, Mobility is a clear driver for cloud-based IT, however, drivers and requirements for on-premise IT will not disappear even though it will diminish, it will remain part of most organisations total infrastructure.

It’s always difficult to define exactly how things will play out, but looking into the future John sees a typical split for most companies being around 70% of infrastructure on or in cloud with around 30% remaining on premise. He also pointed out there will always be exceptions believing that some companies will actually go 100% cloud. When we think about this he is clearly correct with many of the new wave of start-up companies, initially starting completely in a public cloud, but to back up his assertion of the more split IT – we see that as many of these companies mature they often move increasing amounts of their IT on-premise or to their own private clouds.

John also pointed two reasons why some companies may continue to shun cloud altogether. Pointing to examples such as the banking industry he highlighted why some companies may actually shun public or outsourced managed cloud altogether.  Industries like this can be more concerned about security and also more subject to regulatory controls that can impact their decisions about cloud. At DSA we can corroborate this, with CIO’s operating in developing countries banking sectors being wary of any move to cloud what-so-ever.

According to John, the business outcome that cloud can deliver may eventually override concerns over security and risk. Because cloud can deliver enhanced customer experience, banks and players in other risk-averse industries will be driven by the need to remain competitive and meet the needs of their customers to utilise cloud.

John believes that focusing on outcomes is what really matters. It’s outcomes and customer expectation that should drive technology. CIO’s need to focus on driving the best possible return on investment and building an infrastructure that delivers the strongest possible outcome for the organisation. Whether the infrastructure is on premise, hybrid or public cloud, the choice of technology needs to be made by looking at business needs.

With this in mind, John offered important advise for CxO’s. The starting point must be to define their strategic business objective, outcomes that are required from technology must be aligned to this strategic vision, only then can technology choices be made. This will enable them to focus on differentiation and securing winning marketplace positions. According to John, when executives focus only on the cost savings of cloud, they will almost certainly lose sight of the importance of using data to drive better and more informed business decisions. Data-driven decisions are key to delivering desired stakeholder outcomes, something which is critical in industries undergoing Digital disruption.

John stressed that getting to cloud should not be an end in itself.  John shared that in the case of NetApp it’s what they can do for you once you are in the cloud that is important. Examples of how Data Fabric helps deliver outcomes include accelerating data analytics, ensuring critical applications remain available and accelerating software development life-cycles and deployment (DevOps).

With this in mind, John says the questions we ask will determine the best decisions.  He argues that it “Shouldn’t be how do we get into the cloud”, but rather, “How can cloud accelerate our key strategic initiatives”. Rather than ask “how fast should we move into the cloud”, the question should be “how much stuff should we do in the cloud today, and how will that change over time ?” This is where NetApp’s data fabric helps companies, because it helps them keep the right data in the right place, at the right time, allowing them to change their cloud mix at a rate that makes sense to their business priorities.

Following a trend is not reason enough for making a technology decision. That goes for cloud. It’s a strategic direction that needs to be planned and executed at the right time for your business. Data Fabric is a great enabler in that respect.

John positions this really well. “If you align your cloud efforts to strategic business planning then you’re likely to succeed, but if you do it for its own sake, or because everyone else is doing it, or because it’s important for someone’s resume, then you will probably end up as a cloud casualty.”

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