Nutanix looks to turn its hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) products into a platform

At its .NEXT user conference, Nutanix outlined its plan to become the next major enterprise platform vendor, announcing several products to give it visibility among CIOs.

nutanix ceo dheeraj pandey
Zeus Kerravala

Every big vendor has had to start small and then grow into a major platform. Nutanix is no exception. And this week at its .NEXT user conference, the hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) provider outlined a plan to move from being a niche vendor that makes VDI work better to becoming the next big enterprise platform vendor.

In a recent interview, Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey talked about the building blocks of becoming a major enterprise vendor. Nutanix started off with an integrated hardware/software appliance to deliver its HCI solution. Pandey referred to this as their “iPhone,” meaning it was a fully integrated and turnkey product where Nutanix owns the entire experience.

Over time, the company has shifted to a model where the software has been decoupled from the hardware and customers are free to deploy Nutanix on their choice of hardware. Pandey referred to this as the company's “Android” strategy. 

The question is: Where does the company go from here? At .NEXT, Nutanix made it clear it’s not content being the little niche vendor we all know today. Their sights are set high — rainbow high. When it initially came to market, its goal was to make infrastructure invisible to enable companies to build and run apps without having to worry about constantly tuning and tweaking the underlying technology.

It’s fair to say that it and the rest of the HCI community have mastered that, so now it’s time to focus on a broader challenge. Now Nutanix wants to make the cloud invisible; that includes private clouds, public clouds and everything in between. 

To accomplish that and achieve the lofty heights the company is striving for, the Nutanix needs to expand its solution set beyond HCI software. It’s arguably the technology leader in the space, but it’s bought by technologists, meaning the company has little visibility “up the stack” with CIOs. To improve that and shift its positioning from product to platform, the company announced several new products.

Flow moves Nutanix into networking

Flow is the company’s first foray into networking and is an overlay software-defined networking (SDN) solution similar to VMware’s NSX and was the most notable announcement from the event. Because it’s an overlay it’s easy to create a virtual network that extends from a private cloud out to public clouds. Nutanix has done a good job of making the compute, storage, and virtualization infrastructure simple to work with, and now it's reaching into the network. 

The big use case for Flow, as is the case with NSX, is micro-segmentation. Customers can use Nutanix’s Netsil product (acquired in March) to map out the application environment and use that as a map to build a segmentation plan. The micro-segmentation can be used for things like app segmentation and VDI isolation by automating network changes, such as the creation of VLANs or configuration of load balancer functions. Flow runs inside Prism, Nutanix’s management software, which makes it easy for admins to get started and provides a true “single pane of glass.”

At launch, Nutanix announced several network partners that interoperate with Flow via its APIs. Vendors include Arista, Citrix, Mellanox, Broadcom, Plexxi, and Lenovo. Conspicuous by its absence is Cisco, which I wouldn’t expect to see anytime soon.

The addition of Flow brings networking to Nutanix’s hypervisor, AHV, significantly closing the gap with VMware. At the show, I talked to a number of customers who would be more likely to use AHV and ditch VMware hypervisors, saving themselves a significant amount of money. VMware has a much bigger ecosystem of support, but there is certainly an opportunity for Nutanix to take share. Microsoft Hyper-V was supposed to challenge VMware, but it never really did. Given Nutanix has the underlying HCI software, its path to disrupting VMware may be easier than Microsoft’s.

Era makes copy data management easy

Era expands Nutanix’s platform as a service (PaaS) capabilities, enabling the company to move up the stack from infrastructure to managing the lifecycle of databases, such as Oracle. Talk to any CIO, and data sprawl is a top-level issue — and Era addresses that.

Era includes a new feature called “time-machine,” which lets database administrators provision, clone, or refresh with a single click of the mouse. Through application-specific APIs, app developers can make specific point-in-time copies of databases to ensure they are working with the exact data set they require. Also, because every transaction is captured, admins can easily restore any database instant at any moment in time.  

Era enables companies to look to the future but still roll the clock back when needed. The copy data management capabilities are so much more cost-effective than managing multiple copies of databases across the company. Current databases supported are Oracle and Postgres, but the company has plans for others.

Beam me up some easy cost and compliance management of clouds

Beam is the first ever SaaS service from Nutanix, and it helps companies manage the cost and compliance issues associated with multi-cloud deployments. The service is designed to work not just with Nutanix, but across almost any cloud platform, including the popular Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure services.

Beam provides granular visibility and analysis of exactly how organizations are utilizing cloud services by accessing accounts and usage and then organizing the information by project, group, or application. It then overlays that information with optimization recommendations to control costs, while ensuring compliance mandates are met.

Beam also enables companies to set and enforce spending policies, limiting the impact of shadow IT. I have talked to organizations in which their AWS purchases have spiraled out of control because no one had any control over who was spending what. 

Nutanix thrives under the pressure of stiffer competition

Nutanix certainly has its sights set high, and only time will tell if it can indeed be the “next big thing.” Admittedly, I was wrong about the company. A couple of years ago, they were the only game in the HCI town, but then the big boys — HPE, Cisco and Dell-EMC — rolled into town and flexed their 800-pound gorilla muscles. I thought that spelled certain doom for a small David trying to fight not one but three Goliaths. Over the past year, though, the company has seen nothing but success, and the stock has shot up from just under $16 per share to almost $60 per share.

The success of Nutanix is a good lesson that small companies that are laser-focused on a particular market can stay ahead of the larger vendors. F5 Networks and Aruba (now part of HPE) are excellent examples of vendors that did that consistently for years. These three vendors are in different markets, but they have one thing in common: They consistently innovated faster than the competition.

The original mission of Nutanix was to make infrastructure invisible, and now it’s evolved that to making the cloud and all the underlying technology invisible. Only time will tell if customers will entrust Nutanix with a bigger slice of the IT pie. But based on feedback from users at the .NEXT event, the company will get its shot.

Of the companies mentioned in this post, Cisco, HPE and F5 are clients of ZK Research.

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