NetApp on NetApp

NGDC: Three IT Layers, One Data Structure (IT Executive)

Photo by Hotze Zijlstra

This article originally appeared online via IT-Executive and in print via CIO Magazine, and has been translated to English.
By Hotze Zijlstra
April 9, 2018

The traditional data center no longer suffices. The future of organizations in the digital era depends on the way they generate, unlock, secure and monetize data. Products are increasingly turning into digital driven services. This requires a platform that makes all this possible. William (Bill) Miller, data management specialist and CIO at NetApp, shared the secrets of a next-generation data center with a select group of IT leaders.

Speed, agility, scalability, being data driven and disruption are at the top of organizations’ wish lists. “To realize this, the CIOs of most larger companies and institutes like to use the cloud,” says NetApp CIO William Miller. “The traditional data center no longer suffices, also for budget reasons and because of the need for a consumption-based pricing model. In the meantime, legacy cannot be missed, mainly due to trust and compliance. That’s the exact reason why 85 percent of the companies will choose a hybrid environment.”

In many cases a hybrid environment comes down to a combination of cloud, on-premises IT and an intelligent middle layer – the so called data fabric – which ensures a seamless data exchange within what NetApp calls the ‘next-generation data center’. That was the American’s message in a nutshell during the networking dinner with his Dutch colleagues. “We’re very happy that we are able to share our visions and experiences in an exclusive setting like this one,” said host Gos Hein van de Wouw, responsible for NetApp in NEMEA. “It provides us all with food for thought.”


Miller, former CIO of Broadcom and Harris Group, shared his own experiences in relation to cloud exercise. “NetApp has strong roots in storage, but we’re increasingly becoming a data management company. That means that we need to be of value for our customers’ businesses. Other CIOs are undergoing a similar development.” That’s why he created a modern hybrid IT landscape at NetApp, mainly based on the solutions from its own R&D department.

In general, he differentiates three layers within IT. In addition to on-premise solutions, which are often managed by organizations themselves, there are a branch of application specific cloud services, like the ones provided by Workday, Salesforce, SAP and Oracle. The third layer, which he calls cloud enablement, are the so-called hyperscalers, such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft, often in combination with, for example, a private cloud environment. “Almost every CIO is currently working on moving workloads to the hyperscale cloud.”

However, according to Miller, the hybrid environment is here to stay. The challenge is combining the data from the three different layers, including the cloud-based tools and utilities that enable you to manage, process and analyze the data. Miller says the new generation data center is the answer. According to the CIO, it’s the perfect platform for operational and business driven transformations, because of its high level of automation and simplification.

Customer experience

The NetApp executive sees the cloud as a development, in which infrastructure (IaaS) and software (SaaS) are increasingly moving towards platforms (PaaS). “The capabilities of these platforms are continually expanding,” says the CIO. “This offers organizations great opportunities.” He did share that software applications are sometimes wrongfully sold as SaaS. “They’re often not scalable and traditionally hosted, which leads to various limitations.”

An integration of all this poses several challenges for CIOs, one of the attendees said. “Previously, when you look at the SaaS solutions, we were able to run in a relatively isolated manner, but this is changing now that the complete customer journeys are moving through different systems – from beginning to end.” The other participants also consider the customer journey and experience to be an important driver for integration. And this is also the case at NetApp, according to host Gos Hein van de Wouw.

Data Fabric

After addressing matters such as management, support, security, trust and data privacy, the discussion focused on the core. An important element of the next generation data center is the data fabric, an integrated basis for managing and moving data within a hybrid environment. Searchable, accessible, visible, manageable and secure. Miller: “Within organizations, data should be able to move across different clouds, which together form the new data center.”

One of the CIOs present wanted to know at which level the integration takes place. “Is this based on the data, or the application?” William Miller: “Integration on API level is very popular, but it’s possible to use various interfaces within the datacenter, depending on the needs and possibilities.” New or up-and-coming standards can also be supported by the architecture. In addition, the modern data center set-up is completely aligned with DevOps, according to the NetApp CIO, enabled by the combination of cloud, containers and microservices. “The advantage? More speed, higher quality, more efficiency and improved customer and employee satisfaction.”


At the end of the meeting, Miller summarized it all. The new data center consists of the integration of the three previously mentioned layers: those of the public and private cloud, SaaS solutions and virtualized data centers. “CIOs need to decide why, how and at which moment they want to set it up – all based on their own context. Additionally, they regularly need to ask themselves if the current or planned set-up is still productive. A data fabric forms the basis for a future-proof approach in a virtualized environment.”

Within the new generation data center, it’s no longer about the choice between specific providers, but about the way you bring it all together.