Nutanix launches itself at the edge...if you are ready to go along for the ride

Martin Banks Profile picture for user mbanks December 5, 2018
Taking processing and management to the data – exploiting its increasing gravity – is fast becoming a vital capability for every and any business.

nutanix conference
Against a background of better than expected Q1 results, with the proportion of recurring revenue generated by subscription service and support delivery rising 20% to 51% on a year on year basis, it was perhaps pertinent that Nutanix shipped up at London’s ExCel conference and exhibition centre to talk about its latest moves to make that share grow even more.

One of the key sub-plots to emerge from the event is the way that Nutanix is working to try and move the whole concept of cloud computing utilisation and, in particular, the growing realisation that working with multiple cloud service providers is not going to be just a good idea, but an essential practice.

CEO Dheeraj Pandey, set an encouraging tone, telling the three and a half thousand delegates that the theme of the day was to be 'Achieving Invisible Together'. This is an interesting play on the notion that the majority of users have a declining requirement for direct knowledge of cloud services or even IT in general –  in the same way that driving a car needs no knowledge of Internal Combustion Engines or advanced battery technologies, they just need to understand what they can achieve with them:

We have made enterprise computing hardware and software into white noise that ranges from the mainframe to wearables, and on to IoT, and to the edge where palm-sized servers will be the key to the distributed data centre. The next target is now the cloud itself and bringing cloud computing to everybody.


Sunil Potti, the company’s Chief Product and Development Officer, took a slightly different approach to the same subject:

Having hyper-converged the infrastructure, we are now setting out to hyper-converge the clouds. We see a seminal change coming here, with the hardest part being the need to merge the control and data planes. This will allow us to provide every service that enterprises `covet’, anything they feel they need to use, extending from the centre of their business out to every part of the edge.

So the event focused down on those two primary areas for the company, the multi/hyper-converged/invisible cloud and the stretching of the datacentre well beyond the confines of the walls of a building. Instead this is about it being dispersed to the farthest corners of a company’s logical domain.

Nutanix is, of course, not alone in targeting this developing area as an important market. Indeed, it was only last month that VMware set out its own stall in the multi-cloud arena. VMware is an integral element of legacy applications - so many applications have been written to work with it and exploit virtualised environments. And most of those apps are still in frontline use right across the user community. That is why the announcement of its pitch to become the lingua franca of creating loosely-coupled, closely collaborating multi-cloud services is important.

This creates a case where the technical solution can appear almost irrelevant compared to the fact that it offers a route through from the resource-capped lands of on premise operations to the readily scalable, resource delimited world of global cloud services.

Here, of course, is then the beginning of the next stage in the development of hybrid cloud services, the appearance of different ways for a business to transition onto hybrid, multi-cloud services, born of their own perception of where they lie on the spectrum between legacy dependency and distributed serverless cloud-native applications out to the edge. That, at least, is how Dheeraj Pandey sees this part of the multi-cloud future:

VMware is the antithesis of Nutanix, especially in its doubling down on AWS and Dell. It is looking at those businesses where they have a large number of incumbent systems. We don’t look on incumbency as an issue for historically, incumbents in technology have not faired too well.

Reading between the lines it seems possible to see the two strategies as a short term and long term view of the coming multi-cloud marketplace. In the short term VMware has an immensely strong position as a management tool associated with most of the mainstream business applications. So the ability to carry on using them in the same way in a multi-cloud world looks a sensible move. But breaking out of that incumbent role may prove difficult for the company.

Longer term, and especially as the network edge drags analytics applications out to where the data is generated and held, the growth of the distributed data center will bring new, cloud native applications as well as some of the legacy business apps. That is where Nutanix is likely to come into its own.

New tools

Nutanix used the London event to introduce additions to its range of tools aimed at making these next steps possible, particularly the growth of the company’s Enterprise Cloud Platform into Xi Cloud Services. This suite is starting out with five cloud management services that aim to standardise workflows and harmonise operations across multi-cloud environments by blurring the lines between whichever cloud service a user feels it is relevant or important to utilise.

These are the five services making up the launch package of Xi Cloud Services, with Leap and IoT being seen by the company as the pair most likely to fit early adopter needs.

Xi Leap is an obvious pitch at the low-hanging fruit, a set of cloud-based disaster recovery (DR) services that are enabled directly in Nutanix Prism so as to provide fully integrated public and private cloud operations. Within Prism, it is possible to select individual VMs for protection and rapidly set it up. The selected VMs are then replicated in background mode. This service operates within the same management tool as used for general infrastructure deployment.

Xi IoT could be a major development, for there is a coming need for an intelligent edge computing platform that performs real-time processing of sensor and device data pipelines, and can move intelligently filtered data back to a customer’s cloud platform of choice for long-term decision-making. Indeed, that same service will be applicable to any and every edge-located function or process that needs to communicate back to some central 'control' (be that the management of business or manufacturing processes). This will be the case regardless of whether that communication is directly between an end point and the `centre’ or through a one or more local control, management or processing resources.

Xi Frame is a pitch at adding in desktop-as-a-service capabilities built specifically for cloud deployment and which now integrates role-based access control, while Xi Beam is a multi-cloud cost optimisation and governance tool that can operate across both public and private platforms.

The fifth component is Xi Epoch. This a cross-cloud applications monitoring tool that provides a Google Maps-like view of applications so users can identify performance bottlenecks and service availability in any cloud environment.

Behind much of these developments lies the increasing importance of what Pandey called a Law of Physics: the issue of data gravity. This, as explained to the audience by Chris Hallenback, SVP for databases and data management at SAP, leads directly to the observation that cloud services revolve around data, not the other way round. But he also observed that data does get spread around and needs to be refined and repatriated.

To this end, SAP has now certified HANA and the applications that use it to run on Nutanix systems, a move that Hallenback sees as better placing the company to meet its changing market requirement:

SAP is known for being a big application, stable and non-changing. But now a large proportion of what the company is used for is new, unstructured and fast changing data.

My take

Whatever you want to call it, or what any vendor says it ought to be called, that edge computing/hyper-converged/dispersed data center/IoT `thing’ is already real, and it is about to start becoming the operational reality for the majority of IT users of every and any size, shape or business sector.

So what happens over the coming year or two will be interesting because the key word underpinning it all will be `collaboration’. Not only will a business want all its applications to collaborate, but also have them collaborate regardless of where they are running. And beyond that, they will also want them to collaborate regardless of any of the old proprietary, technology-based stumbling blocks the tech industry has always wanted to jam in the way to ensure customer `loyalty’.

The likes of Nutanix and VMware look as though they fully understand that fundamental issue, and it is to be hoped that they realise there is far more to be gained by building as many collaborative links between each other – very openly and very publicly – as possible. The very thought that yet one more outbreak of the `tech standards wars’ may kick off could stall this important developmental area for at least a year, and would serve none of the protagonists in any way.

This could be the last major step towards making IT in all its forms so ubiquitous that, to all intents and purposes it 'disappears.

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