NetApp's Tom Georgens: How we got big, stayed nimble, and view storage today

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In an exclusive interview, CEO Tom Georgens talks about NetApp's plans for virtualization, the private cloud, and big data

Those of us with a bit of institutional memory recall a brash upstart named Network Appliance that burst onto the storage scene to challenge EMC -- itself once a brash newcomer -- and other storage royalty like IBM. But that was 20 years ago, as difficult as that seems to believe, and the company, now named NetApp, is $5 billion-plus storage leader in its own right.

In this installment of the IDG Enterprise CEO Interview Series, CEO Tom Georgens talked to IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant about what's driven NetApp's success and shared his views on key technology issues like big data and deduplication. Georgens also explained why NetApp's single-architecture approach gives the company a big development and agility advantage compared to EMC, and explained why "server vendors" like Dell and IBM are falling behind in the storage arms race. Furthermore, he talked about NetApp's keen focus on the private cloud and how partnerships with companies like Microsoft and Cisco are helping NetApp deliver quickly on that emerging model of computing.

John Gallant: What's the NetApp mission, and what defines the company?

Tom Georgens: At our core, we're a storage and data management company. NetApp has been around roughly 20 years, and our history has been about innovation, about enabling people to use their information assets more effectively and more cost-effectively than they previously could or can now with alternative approaches. NetApp has been an innovator from day one. We effectively invented the NAS business back in the early days of the company. With the demise of the dot-com bubble, NetApp lost a substantial amount of its customer base and needed to make a very, very important transition into the enterprise space. We innovated there around storage efficiency, around integration with business applications. Then we went through the most recent recession, and we came out of that as the innovation leader in storage for virtualized environments.

So our core area is storage and data management. That's been our focus from day one, and we intend to be experts in that, although clearly as we get bigger we'll expand our footprint. Innovation is in our culture, innovation is key to what we do, and the message to the team is that ongoing innovations that are relevant to the customer are key to our ongoing survival as a company.

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