Reality usually takes a bit of time to catch up with the hype, and multi-cloud operations are no exception. Nutanix was talking about this back in mid-2017, while in 2015 Fujitsu acquired a French company, UShareSoft, to provide early multi-cloud operational capabilities for its customers.
But now it is fair to say that reality has caught up to the point where users no longer need to think of it as being daring and by the end of next year may not even know they are doing it. To this end, Nutanix is now pushing a change of nomenclature for what it does, changing the meaning of HCI from Hyper-Converged Infrastructure to Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure.
What prompts this thought is the news that came out of last week's Nutanix.NEXT online conference. Following the announcement of a partnership two years ago with Google Cloud and a second partnership with AWS in August this year, the firm has now hooked up with the third of the dominant public cloud service platforms, Microsoft Azure.
It’s an obvious development. To be honest, the Azure partnership would probably have been more of a news story if it had not materialised. Indeed, a couple of other announcements - of both the Karbon Kubernetes management tools and the Calm provisioning, scaling and lifecycle management tools now being offered in as-a-Service forms - are examples of Nutanix pushing into important new areas.
But in practice, the Azure partnership does open up real, significant opportunities for users looking to run applications and business services on whatever constitutes - for them - the most appropriate platforms that match their business requirements.
CEO Dheeraj Pandey who also announced his forthcoming retirement, acknowledged that the Azure partnership, while an obvious next step, has been hurried along by the impact of the Covid pandemic:
We've seen a rapid adoption of things like Microsoft Teams, things like Windows virtual desktop VDI service, and at the same time, we hear organizations looking to move to the cloud. And with Azure, we're really committed to how we can meet our customers where they're at today, and really give them the ability to embrace cloud at their pace and make it as easy as possible.
In practice, this means giving them greater leverage on their investments across the board. Scott Guthrie, Microsoft’s Executive VP for Cloud, pointed to Nutanix on Azure as giving customers the advantage of much greater cloud scalability and elasticity, without excessive change or complexity. The key here is the ability for users to work in the same operational environment, using the same skills and the same tools they are familiar with, regardless of where a task or process is being run:
The beauty about that is, over time, you can then also leverage and use all of the other services that Azure provides as well. So they can use, for example, our platform services, our ability to provide IoT services, and some of the other areas services that we have, together with their Nutanix workloads.
Users will also gain access to Azure Arc, which extends Azure management into any infrastructure. So in effect management goes duplex, with Nutanix users able to extend into the Azure environment still as Nutanix, while Azure users can extend into Nutanix and still run as Azure, which offers them the possibility of exploiting hyper-converged architecture operations. The target here is obviously users with a strong existing commitment to both environments, and valuable expertise and management skills in both. But it does also open up what might be a tantalising possibility for other Azure users.
Nutanix is also addressing one of the potential stumbling blocks of going hybrid multi-cloud – software licensing and appropriate re-use across different environments in a hybrid multi-cloud. According to Andrew Brinded, EMEA VP and General Manager at Nutanix, licences have been made portable so that current on premise licences can be utilised to manage their AWS and now Azure implementations, which he suggested is a major difference from some of the other players managing existing applications as a service. This, he claimed, gives users control and choice across what should be, for many users, an invisible infrastructure interoperating seamlessly:
The analogy there is Android. With Android you've got choices of hardware and network, and as you know we've got choice of hypervisors. So we don't want customers to be locked in there.
The company’s goal is to build a way to allow users to have legacy applications running in the most appropriate environment available or best suited to their workloads, ranging from on-premise through to the three major global public cloud services providers, and not be able to see the join. And the choice will be pickable from the service provider catalogues with customers using their existing Nutanix licences wherever required.
Karbon and Calm as Services
The two other significant developments mentioned above - the move to push both Karbon Platform Services and the Calm orchestration out into- the ‘as-a-Service’ marketplace - should make some advantageous tooling available for the growing solutions partners community the company is now assiduously building.
The extension of Karbon, one of last year’s new products, to be delivered as-a-Service provides users with the ability to deliver their own applications and services, pre-packaged and containerised within Kubernetes and to orchestrate them to deliver complete services to end users. This is likely to open up the third party partner market and in turn attract a new range of customers to the Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure available through the partners. It will become likely that such customers will not even know they are using either/and/or Nutanix, Google Cloud, AWS or Azure as they will be signing up to use the specific business services individual partners offer, not the technologies used.
Karbon can not only deliver Kubernetes, but also multiple offerings such as serverless services, APIs, messaging, communication buses, and encryption. It is an environment where users can develop a cloud native application with common components that Nutanix can provide, giving them the freedom to run it anywhere in the cloud or at the edge. It also allows new, cloud-native applications to be run on-premise, creating an environment where applications need only be written once but are allowed to then run on any system within the Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure.
Calm, the automation and orchestration tool, has been around for a few years now, and its fundamental agnosticism as to what infrastructures it can work with make it a good candidate for moving out in the as-a-Service sector. That then also makes it a good fit for the third party solutions partner community, as it provides a route through to a wide range of platforms running on Google Cloud, AWS and Azure, as well as Nutanix-based on-premise environments.
As Nutanix CTO, Rajiv Mirani, observed, one of the key objectives is to make Calm the test vehicle of choice:
It becomes very easy to try it out. Someone who doesn't have any Nutanix infrastructure can start using it today to see how well it works to do automation and orchestration against either your VMware infrastructure, or against public cloud and get started very quickly. And of course, if it works they can use that long term as well.
This is a sign of the growing maturity of the cloud-related marketplace. Spine-tingling technology was most certainly not front and center as it has been before at Nutanix events, and as noted, the ‘big story’ would have been much bigger had it not happened. But it did and that is a sign that multi-cloud is not only here to stay, but arguably a phrase we might consider losing. Even hybrid cloud is getting tautologous as a term. Users can now run their applications and business services on whatever is the most appropriate platform available, and increasingly they won’t even know what choices and decisions are being made. This is the time all businesses should now consider piling in and exploiting this. The punishment to business of not doing it will now really start to show.