Banking sector has been our success story in the past: NetApp India Technology & Solutions Group Director

Rajender Bhandari, Director, Technology and Solutions Group, NetApp India, in an exclusive interview with Elets News Network, shares company’s India business plans; besides talking about topics like strategy to compete against players like Dell EMC, HPE or an IBM; partnership with Lenovo and trends in the storage market perspective, among others.

We are looking at an update on NetApp’s India Business on developments over the last couple of years and also understand the roadmap for the next 12 to 18 months. The storage domain itself has seen so much consolidation and churning in the last few years. As NetApp is one of the few pure play storage vendors now, full stack vis-à-vis pure play storage. How is the game and what are the dynamics? 

Back in 2016, our office in Bangalore Embassy Golf Link was like a lease space for us after which NetApp made a huge investment in India. We invested a little over Rs 1,000 crore in building up our own campus in Hoodi, Whitefield. And this became NetApp’s one of the largest R&D centres across the globe. A number of products which NetApp sells is being developed, supported and sustained from that centre. This really proves that we are in this country for a long haul.

That is more of R&D for the global thing. The sales and marketing function which supports India as a market that also operates out of the Whitefield premises?

We have a separate office next to the Raj Bhavan, Bangalore, which is the sales headquarter. We also have a sales and marketing office in Delhi and Mumbai. It is important for us to understand that NetApp is here for a long haul by investment. One of the key differentiators is that one engineering organisation here is very market savvy which really helps us with any kind of support – be it a quick bug fix, be it a new feature release. They also participate in some go-to market strategy for us. A year back, we also launched the Data Visionary Engineering Centre (DVEC) in the same campus. We get our partners, and customers to showcase our product technology solutions at the DVEC.

Is it similar to POC?

No, it’s more of an Executive Briefing Centre (EBC). It is not a POC. This centre is for our customers, partners, consultants, influencers, etc, where we run all the technical sessions, demos for them to understand and appreciate how NetApp’s technology can help them address their business challenges and initiatives. We have such centres in the US as well as in the EMEA region too. From the GTM perspective, I think the relationship and partnership with Lenovo has really been a big announcement globally. And we do see that engagement happening in India and the SAARC region as well. NetApp has globally partnered with Lenovo to bring about next generation data centre solutions for their customers so that they have access to best of data management technology from NetApp. It is both a reseller engagement as well as an OEM engagement which means that they resell some part of our products as their own branded technology as well as some high-end models that they resell as NetApp branded technologies.

That is a strategic move so that you can compete against players like Dell EMC, HPE or IBM, etc.

Here is how we counter full stack vendors in the marketplace. We already have a good collaboration with our partners like Cisco and Fujitsu. With Cisco, we have a solution called Flexpod which is an integrated infrastructure solution with reference architecture, which helps customers to deploy architect size and their solutions quickly. Our partners can put hardware and software together and give it to the customer so that they can have a quick go-to-market strategy. There are more than 100 reference architectures under Flexpod. It is the largest integrated infrastructure solution across the globe in terms of capacity being shipped along with it. We also have a similar solution with our partner Fujitsu, which is again an integrated stack, which is called Inflex. It is available in collaboration with Fujitsu for certain workload types like SAP HANA etc.

We already have a competing full stack strategy to counter the likes of HPE, Dell, IBM or so. With Lenovo, it’s a different kind of a relationship. It’s an OEM and reseller kind of relationship, just like the way we had with IBM earlier. IBM used to resell our FAS as N series, E series as DS series. Similarly, Lenovo is going to sell our FAS as DM Series or our EM series product as D Series. This is an OEM agreement. On the reseller part, if the Lenovo customer needs some high-end products as part of the solution, they will resell it as NetApp’s product. So, it is a deeper level of partnership with Lenovo. In China, we have a joint legal entity which will be selling Lenovo and NetApp products in that region.

But it is only in that geography.

Joint entity is only there for the China region.

And how has been the partnership with Lenovo in India?

It’s working very well. We have seen multiple engagements which are there in the field. And Lenovo also feels that it really bridges the gap in storage offerings to help the enterprise and SME customers. So, it’s going pretty strong in India.

What has been the customer traction there?

We have customers across domains. There is large number of engagements across our global customers, SME as well as enterprise customers.

Global customers are mostly serviced out of here. They are global customers. I am asking about the customers acquired in India.

So, you are talking about India parent customers. Okay, so there are quite a few India parent customers where we are engaged together with Lenovo as well.

So, beyond a Lenovo relationship, what about the other solutions in the portfolio?

One of the exciting things is our Flash leadership across the globe including India. As you know, we were one of the late starters to this party of Flash. 

What was the market share?

We started five years back and today globally we are at number three with 5.8 percent of market share in Q4, 2018. We have been Leaders in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for All Flash Array (AFA) for three consecutive years. And we are growing at a pace which is faster than the market growth. Amongst the top five, we are the fastest growing AFA vendor, and our global growth rate is close to 67.5 percent.

How much will be in Indian market? That’s a global rate.

So globally our All-flash array annualised net revenue run rate was of USD 2.4 billion increased 43 percent year-over-year.

Would you like to share any examples of real time deployments that have happened in the Indian market?

It is a product which we have recently launched. We are talking to a lot of customers in terms of POCs. It is not yet deployed commercially. Although internally we are really excited about the product. The driving force behind Max Data is the adoption of persistent memory. The challenge with DRAM has been that if there is an abrupt shutdown, you will lose the data. Persistent memory gives you a non-volatile DRAM capability.

So, wherever the disruption has happened, the data is updated.

There are a couple of implementations of persistent memory. One is NVDIMM (Non-Volatile Dual In-Line Memory Module), where you have DRAM (Dynamic Random-Access Memory) backed up by a Flash. If there is a power shut down, the content is stored in Flash itself or a 3D Xpoint-a technology which is supported by Intel micron. 3D Xpoint persistent memory is called Optane DIMMs. The Optane DIMMs based servers are available in the marketplace. But that’s a part which helps you to protect the data in the DRAM per se. Even if you run an operating system like Linux on top of it, the file system access of Linux takes 200 microseconds. We run a file system on top of it which is called max file system that expands from operating system up to storage. It partitions the memory into two parts where one part can run OS and DB, and the second part can run the I/O (Input/Output).

So even if the OS has more latency that won’t impact here since you have partitioned it.

First of all, the Max FS reduces the I/O latency significantly vis-à-vis a normal file system. A normal file system (200 microseconds) reduces to a single digit and you get performance acceleration. The second performance acceleration happens when you are running storage at a speed of RAM with a tearing capability between all Flash to memory. We have seen latencies in the testing environment to low double digit of microseconds (From 200 micro-seconds to 10-15 micro-seconds).

Low double-digit micron latency?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We have released some benchmark across the standard applications like Oracle or MongoDB. On Oracle, we saw 60 percent performance boost with one-fifth of the latency. The latency by normal flash is at least 3X the performance boost only for Oracle DB workload performance enhancement. For MongoDB, we have seen enhancement as high as 11 times. So that’s the magic which Max Data does.

If we classify the products, it’s Max Data, it’s the Flash and the Flexpod with Cisco as well as Lenovo?

Another is NetApp Kubernetes Services. The whole world is moving towards containerisation. People want to modernise their application and go down the container way. Many banks are looking into that transformation and trying to remodel their existing application in a containerised way. We acquired a company and launched that as NetApp Kubernetes Services.

One can deploy Kubernetes as a service from a single pane of glass across multiple hyper-scalers. We recently added the functionality to install it on-premise infrastructure on NetApp HCI – single management software to deploy the Kubernetes clusters, be it in Microsoft Azure, AWS, Google Cloud or on-premise on NetApp HCI. Those are some of the key developments which we have seen in the last couple of years.

What are going to be the key focus areas this year?

We have globally re-structured across three business units. Other than the GTM sales which is customer facing, the three key BUs are System Software and Services (SSS) which focus on our core technologies like FAS, e-series etc., Cloud infrastructure business unit which helps customers to deploy best of breed private cloud infrastructure on-premises and cloud data services business unit because hybrid cloud is a dominant architecture that most of the customers are adopting. So, if they have taken a journey to go down the public cloud way through hyper-scalers like AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, we have joint engineering solutions with all these cloud service providers, like Cloud Volume, Ontarc, Cloud Volume Services and so on.

Are you offering the hybrid model to the private cloud model part?

The customers are moving towards adoption of hybrid cloud model through the technology architecture called data fabric.

We are saying that through data fabric, customers get flexibility to deploy wherever the data is required the most. We give them flexibility to control the data. It may be well spread across their own internal private cloud or local hosted cloud service provider or a hyper scaler. They get an insight of how the data is being consumed and utilised and you can manage the entire thing as well as the software to move the data across if there is a need.

You get choice, control, insight, management and the same data platform for data movement. That’s our vision of data fabric. More products are being rolled out on a yearly basis to be able to have the data fabric vision realised in the marketplace. We have our own vision across the three segments and target to be number one in Flash globally. On HCI, our target is to be a part of one of the top three HCI vendors across the globe. And from a CDS (Cloud Data Services) point of view, we have different services, co-unit services with other hyper-scaler cloud service providers from a BU perspective. From an alignment perspective, partners are critical to our success. Therefore, we will continue to invest and expand the partner commitment. Another important thing is our partnership with Nvidia.

Across the three BUs who are some of the marquee customers in India specifically?

If you really see about all Flash, we work with State Bank of India. From an SME segment, we have lot of global customers, Banking sector has been our success story in the past – there we work with Kotak Bank, ING Vysya, SVC and SEBL. We also have Ministry of Rural Development as our customer.

We also work with the Government. The, Airport Authority of India (AAI) has deployed NetApp’s storage platform that provides cutting-edge video analytics at the Authority’s 12 airports, Varanasi and Karnal Municipal Corporation have signed MoU for their Smart City initiatives.

Is there any trend which you see in the storage market perspective?

Flash has been now in the mainstream. Maybe one or one and half years ago, it was still HPE or some of the vendors that were touting it as a USP. Now it’s more mainstream. And that’s why I was initially interested in this whole stack versus pure play because that is a debate that goes on.

NetApp has a strong differentiated value, otherwise we would not have survived for more than 25 years as a standalone storage only vendor. Selling a part of the infrastructure is tougher than selling the full stack. We do bring about strong differentiated products and services to be viable and still growing and at the same time there are customers who are looking for one throat to choke. That’s why we work with partners like Cisco and Fujitsu.

Flexpod thing is very big. That’s been there for some time now.

It has been there for some time and this is world’s number one integrated infrastructure solution.  I think the adoption of Flash with persistent memory, in other words NVME, is going to be important in future.

Because the applications, nature of applications itself would change. So, it would need that infrastructure.

We have been a leader in Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVME) or PCI as an interface to correct all the non-volatile memory. We have been shipping NVME over IP with our EF range since September 2017. We are the first vendor to give end-to-end NVME with our A800 solution. When I say end-to-end NVME, it is just not an NVME disc at the backend but also supporting an NVME portal over fabric protocol called in the front end. We clearly have a six-month head start over our competition in providing end-to-end NVME solutions. There are some of our marquee customers in India who have adopted a solution and their experience with this A800 has been fantastic. We have SBI and HDFC Bank using end to end NVME.  Data explosion is happening everywhere, be it in the medical sector or in social media. Today, bulk of the traffic is coming through mobile apps and not the internet. We do see a requirement for management of non-structured data like user generated data. The right platform to manage and store that is the object storage. We see a lot of interest for object storage from two perspectives. One is to manage their unstructured data and second is as a backup target. Hence, we see a lot of demand of Object Storage.

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