Big news out of Cupertino yesterday, in addition to announcing some new products and hardware updates, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) announced a new way to buy, or more accurately subscribe to iPhone hardware via the iPhone Upgrade Program.

iPhone Upgrade Program

The iPhone Upgrade Program allows customers to subscribe at a predictable and flat fee, and receive a hardware upgrade to their iPhone experience annually. Sound familiar? It should, because it is bringing the same sort of “subscription to innovation” experience to the smart phone industry that Pure introduced to enterprise data storage with Evergreen Storage.

And similar to Evergreen Storage, Apple’s ongoing ability to continuously evolve the consumer experience via hardware and software upgrades without disruption is enabled by the combination of a seamlessly-engineered hardware and software plus the power of the cloud. In fact, this isn’t the first time the growing consumer/enterprise cross-over has been noticed.  And the similarities don’t stop there:

  • The product is designed with software as the heart (iOS in the case of iPhone, Purity in the case of FlashArray//m), and is constantly cloud-connected (iCloud and Pure1, respectively);
  • In both cases, the hardware, software, and cloud components are rapidly evolved independently in order to constantly improve features and the customer experience. A tight coupling of the three enable innovation that wouldn’t be possible by only innovating in one dimension of the product;
  • Fanatical care and engineering is applied to the upgrade process, allowing customers to fundamentally upgrade their software continuously and hardware annually without painful data migration or disruption to their service (in Apple’s case leveraging iCloud and only requiring a reboot of the phone, and in Pure’s case leveraging FlashArray//m’s modular design and not requiring any data migration or performance disruption during hardware or software upgrades).

The result: a customer experience that allows for constant ongoing innovation vs. being stuck on old hardware, enabling subscription-like business models such as the iPhone Upgrade Program and Pure’s Evergreen Storage.


Now NetApp Sees the Light Too?

In addition to Apple’s big news, NetApp has quietly started offering customers a promotion similar to Pure’s Evergreen Storage. With the introduction of the NetApp All Flash FAS Promotion, NetApp is dipping it’s toe in the subscription pool too, at least temporarily as the promotion expires December 31st, 2015. The promotion allows customers to receive a free controller upgrade to new AFF systems in three years when renewing maintenance for three more years.

As we have said previously, the industry-wide pivot to fundamentally better, more customer-friendly business models like Pure’s Evergreen Storage is the new normal in the storage industry, and it is great to see NetApp joining in. If you’d like to learn more about storage industry business model evolution, read Eric Burgener from IDC’s opinion paper on Evergreen Storage.

But – there’s some important differences between NetApp’s promotion and Evergreen Storage:

  1. A time-limited NetApp promotion vs. Pure’s Standard Maintenance. While NetApp is testing the waters here, Evergreen Storage is just how Pure Storage does business…included with our standard maintenance contract, and retroactive to everyone who’s bought a Pure Storage array since inception. The promotion expires December 31, 2015, and is only applicable to customers who bought AFF after August 17th of this year.
  2. Only applicable to All-Flash FAS. Ever notice how NetApp and EMC’s new, customer-friendly business models only seem to be applicable to their all-flash products, and not to their mainstream disk-based products? If you are an existing NetApp or EMC disk customer, you should be asking your reps to get these exciting new programs extended to all the business you do with these vendors. Or give us a call 🙂
  3. One time only. “The terms of this Promotion are available for Customer’s Eligible Products on a one-time basis only.” With Evergreen Storage customers are eligible to upgrade every three years over and over, and can upgrade even more frequently if desired with Upgrade Flex.

Despite the marked differences, it is encouraging to see NetApp take a positive first step, and hopefully it is just the first step towards fully-introducing an ongoing, customer-friendly business model that rivals Pure’s Evergreen Storage. We remain confident that other big storage vendors will inevitably have to follow-suit and ultimately believe it is the right thing for customers.


It’s Time to Push Your Storage Vendor for a Better Business Model

Pure’s doing it. Apple’s doing it. Now maybe even NetApp’s going to do it. If your storage vendor isn’t offering a subscription to ongoing, non-disruptive storage innovation like Evergreen Storage, it’s time to ask why. Perhaps their products don’t support it. Perhaps their business models are built around an addiction to 3-year forklift upgrade cycles. It’s time to push for change, and the choices you make with your storage budget have the opportunity to create incredible change in the storage industry!