NetApp is Turning Customers into Data Thrivers

Ralph Renne works to innovate the cloud services firm’s facilities through consolidation and creative renovations

Customers and partners conquer the world of data, having fun in a VR game while exploring which solutions will best turn their challenges into data-driven opportunities. Photo by NetApp

When NetApp was founded 25 years ago as a traditional data company, the world’s conception of data was different, says Ralph Renne, director of workplace resources and security. However, the cloud storage and services firm has experienced phenomenal growth over the last several years, which has necessitated a return to the company’s original mission: “to help customers be data-driven.” Through transformation and consolidation initiatives, as well as the renovation of NetApp’s Sunnyvale headquarters, Renne has played a fundamental role in continuing that mission.

Renne’s career has always been focused on the real estate/construction/facilities management sector; prior to joining NetApp, Renne served as the director of facilities for Exar Corporation, as well as a project coordinator for the Experimental Facilities Department at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. This experience has come in handy in his current role at NetApp, which heavily involves managing the company’s 2.4 million-square-foot real estate portfolio in the Americas, focusing on real estate, construction, operations, and maintenance management workplace services and amenities.

In recent years, much of Renne’s work has focused on NetApp’s headquarters in Sunnyvale, California. To keep up with NetApp’s continuous growth, Renne has paradoxically spearheaded initiatives to shrink its headquarters from 1.3 million square feet to 700,000. According to Renne, the initiative “bring[s] employees closer together to improve collaboration,” allowing for more frequent intersections for working together and improving the overall employee experience. This streamlining philosophy is central to Renne’s approach to facilities management—rather than endlessly expanding facilities outward, the workplace resources team instead transforms and reinvests in existing space whenever possible to make the workplace more efficient.

As customers and partners enter the DVC, they are greeted by massive, ever-changing images of a data visionary world projected on a 360-degree chamber. Photo by NetApp

This level of efficiency extends to the way Renne works with his real estate and facilities teams. While this increased work might usually involve raising the team’s headcount, Renne instead found ways to “work more effectively with… architects, engineers, and contractors, better leveraging their capabilities.” Vital to this approach is Renne’s love of collaboration and communication: “Collaboration is absolutely critical and is the formula for success,” he notes. While his team is geographically dispersed, they participate in projects remotely whenever possible.

Along with NetApp’s marketing team, Renne and his staff worked to reimagine the customer experience in NetApp’s Executive Briefing Center (EBC) and crafted the facility’s new Data Visionary Center (DVC), which opened in the spring of 2018. The DVC, according to Renne, is “unique and quite likely the industry’s only hybrid cloud-immersion experience,” where customers get to meet data visionaries and co-create unique designs. NetApp’s goal is to turn these customers’ companies into “data thrivers,” organizations that embrace data-driven digital transformation and thus develop new revenue streams faster than competitors.

The Sunnyvale expansion is already completed and has proven successful, and Renne is heavily involved in plans to replicate the DVC in other offices. This includes a two-phase expansion of NetApp’s EBC in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, which should be completed in the summer of 2019, as well as preliminary designs to upgrade its Amsterdam EBC by spring of 2020. When these upgrades are completed, Renne says, they will be qualified to be DVCs.

In designing the look of these DVCs, and their integration with technology, Renne found inspiration in an unlikely source: Disney World. “The Epcot Center is a geodesic structure that was designed to intrigue, creating curiosity from a distance to attract and invite you to explore the park,” says Renne. His team applied the same principles to their DVC, developing a similar geodesic structure made of 16 curved panels, 12 feet high, and adorned with flexible video panels Renne calls their “cloud theater”—one of the largest curved LED-projection-screen structures in the world.

Inside the immersive cloud theater, visitors see targeted videos from global customers that depict how data can help their business thrive. Photo by NetApp

When customers walk into the DVC, they are greeted with custom personalized messaging, highlighting industry-specific information like medical breakthroughs and scientific discoveries, aligning with NetApp’s central mission of world-changing data for customers. “We are a customer-first company,” Renne says, “and this new modern [DVC] is a great example of how we invest in customer experience.”

Through these myriad changes, transformations, and improvements, Renne is confident that NetApp will continue to be a vital resource for companies to gain a better understanding of their data and become Data Thrivers in their own right. “NetApp has undergone a successful business transformation, and now we want to help our customers successfully transform, too.”


Knight Consulting congratulates Ralph Renne on this well-deserved recognition of his efforts at NetApp. We value our 14 year relationship with this firm. We share their commitment to delivering the best solutions possible and look forward to working with them on cutting edge projects in the future.