Q&A with Dave Hitz: The Czar of Efficiency

Everyone Wins with Storage Efficiency

It's no secret that at NetApp, we create innovative storage and data management solutions that help businesses around the world achieve outstanding cost savings and accelerate their business. Many of the world's most successful businesses are built with NetApp®. One thing that sets us apart from the competition is our ability to help our customers maximize their efficiency. "Buy less, store more," we always say.

To that end, we recently sat down with Dave Hitz, NetApp founder, executive vice president, and recently appointed "storage efficiency czar," to find out more about his new role, why storage efficiency is so important to NetApp as a company, and how it is helping our customers' (and NetApp's) business.

You have added a funny new title. What exactly is a "storage efficiency czar"?

Dave: < Laughing > My job is to make sure that we solve our customers' problems using less storage. Of course, I understand that might seem counterintuitive since we're in business to make money, but I assure you it's not. Our customers don't always believe it either. The best response I've heard to some of our more dubious customers came from one of our salesmen, who said, "If I can help you save 30 cents or 50 cents from every dollar, you will be more likely to come back to me next time you get a dollar."

It's a long-term view of business. We help customers save money and do more in the short term, but we are investing in our customers and our own business for the long term. That can be a tough position to take. But at NetApp, our goal is to continue to grow market share, and our strategy to grow that share is to find clever ways to drive our customers' costs down. Our business success, even in these tough economic times, validates our belief that driving costs down remains a big customer priority.

Why did NetApp create a "storage efficiency czar" position?

Dave: I picked up this role when Rob Salmon , our executive vice president, Field Operations, observed that we seemed to be coming out of this recession a little more quickly than a lot of our competition. When we, as an executive team, looked at the results we've been seeing, we recognized that one of the reasons—maybe not the only reason, but a big reason—appears to be our innovation in storage efficiency. I am talking about storage efficiency in terms of both the story that we tell and the actual capabilities that we deliver as we work with our customers. But with all of our success, Rob had one big concern: many customers aren't taking full advantage of the features we offer today, which we view as missed opportunity to help them save more. Well, in the short term it's good that people buy from us and we close the deal. But in the long run, our customers might not get the full results they expect because they've not taken full advantage of the efficiency technologies we've been discussing. The czar role is intended to help our customers take full advantage of the features we offer, while driving stronger adoption of our whole portfolio.

What would you say is your primary responsibility in this role?

Dave: My primary job is as an advocate for the customers to get the most out of their storage environments without sacrificing performance and, ultimately, to increase adoption of our storage efficiency technologies. There are three pieces of the storage efficiency process:

  • Developing technologies that increase storage efficiency. And, in a number of cases, we have more ideas for that. We look at the technologies that we’ve shipped and say, wow, we can do even better than that. Customer input in technology evolution is critical.
  • Telling the story to customers. Drive awareness for the reasons organizations ought to do business with NetApp and how we add can value to their IT environment.
  • Simply driving adoption. Make sure our customers discover and use the efficiency features, that it’s easy to turn them on, and make it possible for them to measure and monitor the results.

"My number-one focus is advocating for adoption to maximize customer savings. But I also want pull. I want customers to say, 'What about the storage I already bought? How can it be more efficient?' That might not be top of mind for our sales force, but in the long run, it is better for our relationship with our customers."
—Dave Hitz


The first two are interesting, but the third is the one I'm most passionate about because it's the one where you actually squeeze more savings in our customer environments. The best opportunities we have to help our customers are to (a) get feedback to engineering, which will help over time, and (b) drive adoption today. By adoption, I mean encourage our customers to use the tools they already have available to them to increase utilization of what they already own and to help them buy less storage.

Adoption rates do vary because some of our tools (for example, Snapshot™ and RAID-DP®) are on by default, while others need to be turned on (for example, clones for test/dev environments), while still others are conscious decisions that need to be made at the time of purchase (for example, SATA drives and Flash Cache). Part of the solution lies in storytelling. Making sure our customers understand the potential they already possess within their IT environment. The other part of the issue is clarifying which features actually make the most sense.

My number-one focus is advocating for adoption to maximize customer savings. But I also want pull. I want customers to say, "What about the storage I already bought? How can it be more efficient?" That might not be top of mind for our sales force, but in the long run, it is better for our relationship with our customers.

How is NetApp unique in its approach to maximizing efficiency?

Dave: There are two big problems our customers come to us to solve:

  • Customers are happy with how they're doing things. They just want to do it for less money.
  • Customers want us to help them do things in an entirely new way: for example, creating a new desktop image every morning for their call center staff. They're looking for more business agility.

In both cases, the solution comes down to more efficiently using resources. Technology lets you think differently about a problem.

We've worked hard to deliver technologies that help maximize efficiency while driving up business agility. We do that in several ways. Automation can help with operational efficiency. Unifying storage so that NAS, SAN, high end, and low end are all on the same architecture makes storage easier to manage. And then there is storage efficiency.

Storage efficiency is a particular kind of efficiency. It's the ability to get the same job done with fewer disks. Our innovation is focused on delivering more capacity and performance with fewer disks, without sacrificing performance or data availability. We help manage and even minimize the growth of data—most especially replicated data—and we help deliver more capacity and performance from the same number of disks.

The advantage we offer is that we have a single architecture that does it all, from low end to high end, for NAS, SAN, primary, and secondary data. Of course, when I look at our suite of storage efficiency technologies—things such as thin provisioning, data deduplication, Snapshot copies, Flash, cloning, using RAID-DP to enable SATA to store not only secondary but also primary data—I don't think there is any single feature that some competitor doesn't offer. The difference lies in that single, unified architecture, which means that all of the features I just mentioned are available in all of our systems. You can look at the environment that you already have and start turning on those features. I'm not talking about turning on a single feature. Turn several on. Watch the savings multiply.

For instance, you bought a data deduplication appliance. Does it also have cloning technology for more efficient test and development? Do you have thin provisioning for when your database admin asks for 2TB but only really ever uses half a terabyte? If you add the underutilized storage capacity across your organization, you'll see an enormous waste of resources. With our unified architecture, you really are in a position to compound your savings by seeing how many features can be applied at once. So it's pretty exciting.


"I spoke with a healthcare customer once who had just discovered deduplication. He was really excited about it. So I asked him how he figured out which data sets to apply it to. He said he had given up trying to predict what it will help because it had helped things he never would have imagined. The example he gave me was medical imaging data: MRIs, x-rays, pictures of your spleen. Just for the fun of it, he turned on data deduplication, and it reduced data by 33%. Now what are the odds that my spleen looks exactly like yours? He said, 'I have no idea, but I do know that you will get savings in places you would not have expected.'"
—Dave Hitz


Virtualization is one way many organizations have been driving costs out of their IT environments. How does storage efficiency complement those projects?

Dave: Storage efficiency and virtualization go hand in hand. They both offer incredible savings for our customers. So, obviously, in the context of a downturn, when people are trying to save money, storage efficiency and storage optimized for virtualized environments are both great tools for helping to drive out costs.

One of the things we did is invest in technologies to make sure that our systems performed better than the competition. Two examples come to mind. First, deduplication. Dedupe works on both primary and secondary data and is very effective in reducing storage with VMware®. Second, clones. In many virtualized environments (particularly in virtual desktop environments), companies want dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of copies of the exact same data. Cloning makes creating copies quick and easy. We've got some cases where companies can create over 30,000 copies in five minutes and with almost no additional storage capacity.

As a company, we made investments and decisions in storage efficiency as well as storage efficiency in the broader context of NetApp and our relationship with VMware that are helping us come out of the recession faster and stronger than the competition. Ultimately, that's also good for our customers.

Was it luck or strategy that NetApp focused on storage efficiency?

Dave: We've been working on technologies that improve efficiency from the beginning. Our first shipped product, about 18 years ago, included Snapshot copies, or instant backups that take no performance hit. Then we rolled in other ideas, such as the ability to write to them (clones), manage them (flexible volumes), and so on. We were listening to customers and innovating to improve efficiency.

We ultimately realized how many separate development threads fell under the same category of solving more problems with fewer disks. So when the economy really started to head south and our customers were all starting to double and triple check their wallets and focus on how to control costs, we began to focus on how many of these features our customers could safely turn on at once. So, was it luck? Not quite. &lt;laughing&gt; We were prepared because we listen to our customers, which is good, but the combination of events was lucky.


"Luck favors the prepared."—Louis Pasteur


How can improving storage efficiency help drive business innovation and success?

Dave: When the economy tanked, a lot of people squeezed every possible thing they could from their IT infrastructure. But you can only squeeze for so long before you need to refresh. As customers come out of the recession, they will look at what needs to be prioritized. Of course, CIOs have a clear list of what they have to spend money on. Storage is always high on that list.

Now, if you look at what they want to spend money on, it's a different list. They would prefer to spend money on applications, business problems, tools they don't have, or opportunities to help their business grow. But a lot can't focus on their wish list until the need list is under control.

Now, imagine if you could reclaim 50% or more of your storage infrastructure. What if you didn't need to buy as much storage? Or if I told you that the same or less staff could manage more data?

We can help. And with the money you can save, you have the flexibility to do the things you really, really want to do. Storage is funny. It's always behind the thing you want to do. It's seldom the front-of-mind thing. It's like that silly old saying: "Behind every great man, there's a great woman." I say, "Behind every great app, there's some great storage."

Any advice you have for our customers or future customers?

Dave: Ask questions. Work with your sales rep or, more specifically, with the sales engineer and ask that person, based on the data you have, which features should be turned on. I'll bet we can help you save money.