NetApp trials University alliance to tackle skills shortage

NetApp will try to introduce certifications in its products to the curricula of nine Australian universities, to address a shortage of people skilled in operating its products.

NetApp partners and customers are cannibalising the few skilled and/or certified staff qualified to use its products in Australia, leading to a skills shortage the vendor hopes to address by exploring alliances with nine local universities to include its certifications in the curriculum of some degrees.

The program will be piloted in Australia with a view to using it elsewhere in the world,  is inspired by Cisco. The networking vendor worked with local universities for several years to help students study its products. Students can emerge with a degree, a certification, or both. The University of Technology Sydney has been one of its partners and offers Cisco-specific short courses under the Networking Academy Program.

NetApp Australia and New Zealand Vice President and Managing Director Peter O’Connor told a press lunch this week that he first considered a local program of this sort after discussions with Les Williamson, his opposite number at Cisco Australia, who told him of Cisco’s programs.

O’Connor said he expects student will be attracted to the courses because “they will leave University with a $110,000 or $120,000 a year job waiting for them,” but said he cannot yet offer a start date for the program or details of the degrees in which NetApp certification will be included.

O’Connor said he is also open to the idea of another occasional Cisco certification tactic, namely suspending certifications for workers who job-hop soon after attaining their qualification.

The aim of the program, he said, is to help NetApp sell more product by ensuring a workforce is ready to operate it. He also hopes that a larger workforce will reduce churn of skilled staff, a phenomenon he said currently sees channel partners and customers cannibalising staff from one another for annual pay rises in the order of $5000. That practice, he said “helps no-one,” including NetApp as ”when a partner hires from a customer we can lose a sponsor” who has recommended many NetApp purchases.

NetApp is discussing the idea with nine universities, including RMIT, The University of Adelaide and Queensland University of Technology

Other issues touched on in the briefing included NetApp’s performance in Australia, which O’Connor said (citing IDC data) now sees the company outsell closest rival EMC in terms of shipped storage capacity. O’Connor also said NetApp has sold more than 70 FlexPods in Australia since their November 2011 launch, with especially strong sales to public cloud providers. Not all such customers, he added, are offering public cloud services today but have made NetApp their platform of choice.

Those sales figures contrasted with EMC, which he asserted has sold fewer than ten V-Blocks. An EMC spokesperson refuted that assertion, deriding FlexPod as a reference architecture rather than an actual product.

The briefing also saw the company hint at a new low-end appliance that O’Connor said would suit demanding home users. SearchStorage ANZ asked if this could be a shoebox-style NAS, or a small rack-mounted unit, but the company’s representatives declined to comment.

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