NetApp digital support director Ross Ackerman demonstrates Elio, the company's new AI-powered digital assistant, for reporters during NetApp's Insight conference on Oct. 3.

Published: October 3rd, 2017

LAS VEGAS – NetApp customers will soon be receiving faster answers to their most common problems.

During its NetApp Insight conference, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based storage and data management firm announced the release of Elio, a new virtual assistant designed to provide technical support which is powered by IBM’s Watson.

Brett Roscoe

“We’re really the first ones in this industry to use Watson as a way to drive our customer experience,” NetApp vice president of marketing Brett Roscoe said during an Oct. 3 demonstration for the media. “It’s really a great solution that reduces time to resolution… provides mobile, web-based, multi-interface approach to how you interface with our product support, and… integrates leading search indicating capabilities.”

NetApp subscribers can use Elio, which incorporates the company’s predictive analytics, cognitive computing, and extensive customer use history – augmented by human support – to deliver insights that will allow them to spend time with their own customers rather than on their company’s infrastructure, Cindy Warner, senior vice president and general manager of NetApp’s worldwide enterprise services and support division, said in an Oct. 3 statement.

“As the data authority in a hybrid cloud world, we understand that companies want to spend time on their customers, not their infrastructure,” she said. “The transformative customer experience that we provide with Elio… enables our customers to save time, to increase reliability, and to focus staff on higher-value initiatives like digital transformation.”

The key advantage provided by Elio, NetApp and Roscoe emphasized, is the increased speed at which it can extract value from and manage NetApp’s vast library of data.

“Today we collect about 36 billion data points a day from over 300,000 systems… deployed in over 118 countries,” Roscoe said. “When we collect those 36 billion data points, we then push that data through NetApp Private Storage, one of our own solutions, into a public cloud environment where we use unlimited compute resources to perform analytics on that data, and then provide that analytic base back to our customers.”

NetApp digital support director Ross Ackerman demonstrated Elio, which he noted NetApp had been using internally for “quite some time,” after Roscoe’s introduction. Like the virtual assistants on many websites, he began his demonstration by selecting a category from a drop-down menu, then typing a question (“I’ve just upgraded OnTap and my lifs are not home. How do I get my lifs home?”) which Elio didn’t recognize at first.

Admitting the lack of recognition was a mistake, Ackerman rephrased the question (“After an upgrade, my lifs are not home. How do I move my lifs back to the home port?”) and was able to have Elio answer it.

Elio is currently trained to provide entry-level tech support for the entire NetApp portfolio, though Ackerman said he did not have accuracy rates to share with the media.

“He’s beating our expectations when we turn them on,” Ackerman said. “We have accuracy rates internally, and then we have accuracy rates directly to our customers, and he’s beating them right now… we know that measured, both internally and directly to our customers, that Elio’s four times faster to get a right answer.”

Ackerman emphasized that Elio learns from failed interactions, analyzing why the relevancy of a given answer might be low, for example, or what it asked to elicit a specific response, then applying it to future questions. He also noted that the assistant had been programmed to analyze customer vocabulary, rather than terms used by experts.

More importantly, he said, users can always choose what he called an “exit button” if they do not feel Elio is being helpful.

“Elio’s focused on high-volume, low-complexity questions,” Ackerman said. “When you get to ‘hey, this is really difficult,’ and we’ve got a really experienced customer partner, we don’t want Elio to get in the way. So… the customer/partner always has continue to live chat.”

Elio is available now with a NetApp Support contract, and is included at no additional cost across the NetApp portfolio, including NetApp All Flash FAS (AFF), FAS, SolidFire, AltaVault, E-Series, EFSeries, StorageGRID, ONTAP Cloud, and ONTAP Select products.