After writing about NetApp’s Spot PC last month, I had a surprisingly nice chat with Spot PC’s CEO, Jeff Treuhaft. He reminded me that this is still a very young offering and therefore it makes more sense to focus on the product, not the channel or brand. So while Treuhaft didn’t disagree with my thoughts, he suggested that NetApp have a plan for solving problems once the Spot PC has proven itself in a few initial implementations.
Since the plan is not there yet and because of the confidentiality of the move, Treuhaft was unable to say more about it. So I want to focus on what it could be and how it could transform the PC experience into something less aggravating and closer to what users say they want.
Currently, NetApp sells Spot PC through an existing channel of managed service providers (MSPs).
Collaborate or merge to create a new class of PC companies
The world we live in is very different from a few years ago. Instead of office work being the norm – and home working the exception – we seem to be sticking to a solid work-from-home model or a hybrid of work from home and the office. Some of the reports I see from companies demanding employees return to the office indicate that this forced march is resulting in unsustainable levels of layoffs and employees are migrating en masse to competitors promoting aggressive work-from-home policies.
But working from home has significant support issues. You can’t cost-effectively dispatch techies at scale, and since support is likely to be remote, you can’t always guarantee that user issues will be addressed in a timely manner. So the focus should be on reducing the number of issues a user, especially a remote user, will face.
The Cloud PC, the latest version of the Thin Client, seems like an ideal path; it’s usually more flexible (you can specify that you just want an instance with more performance), more secure, and potentially cheaper, both initially and over time due to economies of scale. Especially for home users, it’s better, faster and cheaper than a traditional PC approach.
The problem, as I mentioned last month, is that NetApp is not known as a PC vendor. And until that lack of brand identity is corrected, NetApp’s potential in the market will be greatly diminished.
But what if NetApp partners or merges with another company to address these issues? And who would it partner with?
Lenovo and Cisco for the win?
NetApp has two long-term strategic partners that can address the branding issues and Spot PC. Both Lenovo and Cisco (disclosure: both are customers) have capabilities that could flesh out Spot PC and make it much more capable than it is. Lenovo has what the old IBM PC division was, and IBM was dominant in the days of terminals – emulating Spot PC to some extent. Lenovo has a significant set of desktop management tools that can be combined with this NetApp effort for an end-to-end implementation and support solution from a highly regarded brand.
Cisco has arguably the most robust remote worker provisioning program. It allows employees to go to a store like Best Buy and get the networking and collaboration tools they need in a complete, approved, and highly reliable package. Those tools can also be configured remotely and combined with Spot PC to create what is essentially a plug-and-play Spot PC ecosystem.
This would also lay the groundwork for either a more extensive collaboration between the companies or a merger to create an entity that could rival the old IBM or the current Dell in size, scope and (given Lenovo’s significantly stronger presence in China) technologies.
While Treuhaft can’t share a plan that doesn’t yet exist for the next phase of Spot PC, I think one possible path to success would be bringing companies like Lenovo and Cisco on board. That would enable the creation of an end-to-end Cloud PC solution that can be deployed effectively on-premise — and works particularly well for in-home offices, while reducing support costs and increasing security.
If the companies have the will, we could see the emergence of a new kind of deep partnership or a fascinating merger as the industry reinvents the PC.
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