Inside NetApp's hyper-converged strategy

NetApp's federal leader explains how the company sees opportunities for its hyper-converged offerings as the government's "Cloud Smart" initiative settles in.

Many agencies are still figuring out where and how cloud computing infrastructures and other supporting technologies fit into their overall IT strategy, even with all the noise around the Defense Department commercial cloud push.

Around this time last year, the White House updated its own strategy for agencies from the “Cloud First” guidance during the Obama administration to what the Trump administration now calls “Cloud Smart” -- an approach intended as more agency-specific and to stress three key areas: security, procurement and workforce.

One end result is that some data may either take longer to go into any sort of cloud environment, if it ever does, as NetApp's federal leader Rob Stein recently told me. But Stein also said that is only part of what senior executives at federal agencies are considering.

“Cloud always enters the conversation but it’s typically part of ‘how to best use it,’” said Stein, U.S. public sector vice president at NetApp.

Stein sees the shift to the Cloud Smart strategy as more aligned with the questions those senior agency executives think through when deciding how cloud fits into what the organization should do with its IT assets. During our conversation, Stein outlined some of the questions he hears his federal counterparts bring up.

“When’s the right time to put stuff in the cloud, when’s the right time to keep things on-premise, should they go to private cloud, how do they manage data, how do they make it secure when it goes in this hybrid environment,” Stein said.

“It’s not a cloud-only discussion, it’s about how do I make that part of what I do, and how can I really implement hybrid cloud,” he said. “Which is where we think all agencies and organizations are going to land.”

In other words, some data and workloads will certainly go into a commercial cloud infrastructure from one of the usual suspects such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure.

For other instances, agencies “might want to stand up a (software-as-a-service) application that’s delivered elsewhere,” Stein said. “A lot of the discussion there is how do you manage your data when it’s in these multiple environments and not just build more stovepipes that are not in your data center.”

NetApp's strategy focuses in part on a hyper-converged infrastructure that manages separate compute and storage capabilities across different architectures in a hybrid cloud setup. The bridge that connects users to those different environments is a data fabric to manage all the data and assets in both on-premise and cloud environments.

“If (agencies) want to put a workload that typically requires high performance that’s been running in their data center, when they get to the cloud a lot of times they’ll really have to figure out” how to keep that performance at current levels, Stein said.

Along with performance, there is the issue of the sheer volume of data agencies have given many of them will never dispose of a single piece of that for their entire history. he said. NetApp works with the cloud infrastructure providers and agencies on those problems, including military service personnel in the field.

NetApp has within the past year booked a pair of orders with the Defense Health Agency and Navy to provide the company’s data management software as both agencies look at accelerating cloud initiatives. Both wins came through NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement vehicle available for all agencies to purchase IT solutions.

In both situations, Stein said those agencies have high-performance data centers with data and other assets they want to be a part of their future IT architectures. And like Cloud Smart, Stein sees SEWP as a way to help agencies be flexible and conduct competitive procurements to help decide the right path in slower steps.

“There’s multiple holders of the SEWP contract that can bid on things,” Stein said. “SEWP not only lets you do transactional things… but it lets you do agency-wide agreements and gives these organizations flexibility to then buy what they need as they start to figure that out.”