NetApp recently announced that it was acquiring Akorri, a small but highly regarded provider of management solutions for virtualized storage environments. All in all, this is yet another sign of the increasingly strategic importance of virtualized infrastructure and the need for existing players, regardless of how strong their positions are in their respective silos, to acquire additional tools and capabilities for management of an extended virtualized environment.

NetApp, while one of the strongest suppliers in the storage industry, not only faces continued pressure from not only EMC, which owns VMware and has been on a management software acquisition binge for years, but also renewed pressure from IBM and HP, who are increasingly tying their captive storage offerings into their own integrated virtualized infrastructure offerings. This tighter coupling of proprietary technology, while not explicitly disenfranchising external storage vendors, will still tighten the screws slightly and reduce the number of opportunities for NetApp to partner with them. Even Dell, long regarded as the laggard in high-end enterprise presence, has been ramping up its investment management and ability to deliver integrated infrastructure, including both the purchase of storage technology and a very clear signal with its run at 3Par and recent investments in companies such as Scalent (see my previous blog on Dell as an enterprise player and my colleague Andrew Reichman’s discussion of the 3Par acquisition) that it wants to go even further as a supplier of integrated infrastructure.

Hence the move by NetApp to acquire additional management capabilities. In my estimation, this trend will continue, with the major storage vendors continuing to enrich their management portfolios, increasing the complexity of the landscape for I&O professionals, and ultimately resulting in changing alliances and shifting market power as a new constellation of players jockey for position as the management point for an increasingly virtualized infrastructure. My gut feeling is that VMware’s position, along with Microsoft’s, as anchors of the constellation of enterprise VMs, is secure, and then almost everything else is up for grabs.

My colleague Glenn O’Donnell notes that what is especially bold about this move by NetApp is that Akorri represents a foray into the wild and scary wilderness outside the gates of its traditional storage castle. NetApp must evolve upon its storage roots into a broader player on the IT stage. Virtual infrastructure, including servers and networks, is a bigger game. This could prove risky for a laser-focused storage vendor, but it’s a risk that must be taken. Akorri is a small step in this direction, but a little step with a loud thump. Today marks the beginning of NetApp’s emergence as more than just another tech specialist.

Glenn expects further expeditionary conquests in the broader management realm from NetApp. Its financial success (see its impressive 12-month stock performance graph) gives it the deep pockets to do more – much more!

Comments welcome.