One of the challenges facing HCI vendor Nutanix is the scale of their ecosystem. However, Nutanix just announced support for HPE rack servers, which could give their ecosystem an interesting boost.
Hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) vendor Nutanix continues its march to compete with current data center virtualization leader, VMware. Originally focused on supporting vSphere and Hyper-V, Nutanix eventually launched its proprietary flavor of open source hypervisor KVM, naming it Acropolis.
Nutanix has existing OEM relationships with Dell EMC and Lenovo, and recently certified Cisco UCS for their HCI platform. Without a formal OEM agreement, Nutanix offers support agreements to assure customers the solution is production ready. Like the Cisco UCS rack server, Nutanix is now certifying specific HPE rack server configurations as well.
Application vs. integrated platform
The Nutanix solution isn't an integrated platform similar to competing products. HPE's SimpliVity, for example, leverages ASIC to speed performance of storage services. To an extent, SimpliVity is tied to the hardware platform, at least for storage acceleration. Nutanix does, however, have visions of becoming a platform.
Early in the birth of Nutanix, the company's vision was that of a platform. However, there's a tipping point between when a solution is an application and when it is considered a platform. Today, it's safe to say that vSphere is a platform, and Nutanix is one of many partners within the vSphere ecosystem. Back at the first Nutanix user conference, NEXTConf, Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey spoke on the risk of hubris in calling Nutanix's solution a platform.
From my view, Nutanix's strategy involves perfecting the application layer of their solution. Nutanix slow rolled the release of their initial product, and the early product versions shipped via tightly-controlled hardware configurations. Nutanix was clear that the product and hardware platform were independent. The same view existed from the hypervisor perspective. Nutanix viewed vSphere as a platform to run the storage application component of Nutanix.
By taking the application approach to HCI, Nutanix can decouple storage and management from both the hypervisor and underlying hardware. It's the decoupling that allows Nutanix to offer support for non-OEM server configurations. In the first step of the decoupling process, Nutanix introduced their hypervisor, Acropolis.
As mentioned, Acropolis leverages the open-sourced KVM hypervisor. By leveraging KVM, Nutanix inherited a hardware compatibility list that includes the Linux Kernel. Nutanix has a community edition of the solution for training. There are examples of end users installing the solution on simple Intel NUC mini-PCs. If an organization is comfortable running non-OEM KVM configurations, Nutanix's support of pre-approved HPE and Cisco solutions should fit the support model.
Nutanix has some growing to do when it comes to their ecosystem. Even with adding HPE rack servers, the number of server options for Nutanix remains low compared to VMware vSphere. For example, VMware's VMworld brings together storage, network, server, services, and management vendors—all of which have solutions that integrate with the vSphere platform.
The customers I've spoken to like the product running on top of vSphere. The primary challenge they run into when looking migrate to Acropolis is the lack of integration with existing tools. Nutanix's offering of support for Acropolis on HPE is an example of the potential of the platform. While still relatively small, Nutanix represents an intriguing competitor to VMware.
Update: Upon publication of this article, an HPE spokesperson reached out to TechRepublic with the following comment: "While it's nice that Nutanix recognizes our leadership in the server industry, there is no relationship between HPE and Nutanix. Customers looking for a supported hyperconverged solution on our DL380 are better served using our HPE SimpliVity product."
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