(Disclosure: Most of the sellers mentioned are clients of the author.)
There is no doubt that the current trend surrounding personal computing is to shift loads and costs from the desktop to the cloud, where there is a better economy of scale for things like updates, security and on-demand performance. Obstacles to this move are past poor experience with thin clients; Excessive costs associated with some vendor solutions; And network access, power and latency – all of which are being mitigated by 5G.
Microsoft’s Windows 365 has taken desktop cloud computing into the mainstream, and Windows 365 has been rolled out with a cloud PC offer called NetApp Spot PC. It looks really good on paper but NetApp will be interrupted by the wrong company to provide a desktop solution. While IBM and Cisco have failed in their Apple sales efforts, NetApp is likely to fail with it.
Let’s talk about the reasons.
Examples of international harvesters
I grew up on a farm and a farm. The farm had both a jeep and an international harvester scout to get around us. In many ways, the Scout was the best farm vehicle, as it had a bed like a pickup truck and a sturdy top, enclosed cab that you could heat in the winter. But the scout market failed, while the Jeep brand and the vehicle, which is no different than it was then, are still in vogue today.
The problem with the scouts was that the international harvester’s sales and service capabilities were designed for farm-targeted vehicles such as harvesters and tractors. The Scout was a private transport vehicle that was traditionally sold at car or truck dealerships that catered to a wide range of buyers. Farm equipment is usually serviced where it is used and if you need to take it to a store, the equipment is picked up, taken to a central repair facility and then returned to the truck, a process that is not exactly how you do it. Like a personal transport go service. If you take your scout for service, there was no waiting room or consideration for an owner who could wait for repairs, as most of these things were not needed for the industrial equipment served there.
When Honda rolled out its first car, it fell into something similar. Although motorcycle shops were more like car dealerships than international harvesters, in order to be successful, the company still had to create a unique sales, service and delivery system for cars.
Examples in technology
Sony vs. Dell technology is a prime example of this problem. Sony has made better PCs than Dell, but it wanted to take advantage of its existing audio channels and support structure. Although sales were similar (at least at the consumer level), there was no support. For PC support, you need a more powerful service company, which Dell had but Sony lacked. Sony PCs may break down less often, but when they did, the experience was so bad that Sony got a bad rep for support and people avoided the product even though it was arguably better and better made.
Apple, which has always struggled with enterprise sales because it lacks an enterprise sales and support channel, thought it could use Cisco and IBM to create its products. But none of those companies sell PCs. Two problems resulted in the failure of this attempt. First, the companies lacked a sales and support channel consistent with the product category, and second, Apple refused to create a product that would be more acceptable to the existing channels of these companies.
If you look at how IBM successfully, at least initially, solved this problem when there was an IBM PC, it created a company within a company that had its own sales and support channel. It worked but was still so different from the rest of IBM’s business (more like NetApp) that it had to be sold to IBM PC company Lenovo, which was more successful with it.
Citrix has been around for decades, with similar offers on spot PCs, but it lacked the scale that traditional PC makers had. This forced the market to charge more for the offer than to pay, and it did not have enough infrastructure controls to make its solution widely effective.
NetApp: Wrong seller for this well-timed product
With a cloud offer, you think at least support issues will go away But how often does NetApp deal with end-user issues that a PC vendor typically deals with, and IT wants to address them? In addition, for user support, the process involving OEM is well established in most enterprises. So a vendor like Dell, which is already embedded in that process, can provide a spot PC solution that is relatively painful to accept, because its services are already connected to IT services, and the sales team is talking to IT’s personal technical support. And working 6 Team
Not only will a solution from NetApp disrupt it, but it won’t fit easily with a process that was built around a different vendor who has decades of experience supporting end users. And, on the other hand, NetApp is not a major cloud player, which means it must enhance that capability or partner with AWS, Azure or Google to provide it.
This increases the risk for the buyer both in the short and long term, as NetApp initially lacks the support framework that IT expects for timely support and, ultimately, there is a high risk of this effort failing, resulting in customer problems.
And finally, what will NetApp use in the long run for desktop hardware? In the short term it can use aging PCs, but in the long run it will require more dedicated hardware platforms – and NetApp is not in the PC business.
Unwrapping the wrapper
A final, painful example is Steve Ballmer’s June effort. On paper, the Zune was much better priced than the iPod. It was even more powerful: it would play video and it came with a music service long before Apple Music. But Microsoft saw market requirements for the offer, including huge marketing costs, a video service (none existed then) and a way to move iPod playlists in June, and decided to avoid the hard parts. So, June failed.
On paper, NetApp has a product that looks complete and up-to-date. But NetApp is not currently an end-user-centric desktop computing company for hardware or software. As such, it lacks the critical aspects to fully address the needs of the market. As other enterprise PC OEMs spin their own competing offers, based on Windows 365 and most of Azure, NetApp will increasingly integrate with these advanced and well-supported offers.
So while specs, spot PCs seem to be the right product at the right time, it doesn’t give a good indication for its future to come from the wrong company.
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