Kubernetes clusters have to land somewhere. Nutanix wants to be the best infrastructure layer for this.
When you hear people talk about containers, microservices and Kubernetes these days, they sometimes seem to be talking about something that magically just works. Yet even those kinds of workloads need infrastructure that they can run on. Infrastructure that ensures they can perform at their best. Nutanix may have originated in the world of VMs and hyper-converged infrastructure, but it is obviously moving with the times as well. It has now developed HCI as far as it can possibly go, though, and is positioning itself primarily as a hybrid multi-cloud management platform. We recently published various articles about this positioning.
Clearly, with the ambitions it has, Nutanix must have story around Kubernetes. This is also what Christophe Jauffret, Staff Solutions Architect at Nutanix points out in conversation with us, “today we need to be able to host any type of application.” So that certainly applies to Kubernetes as well. That’s why Nutanix started betting firmly on it about four years ago. In this article, we take a closer look at what Nutanix is doing in this area.
One of the most important parts of Nutanix’s offering around Kubernetes is that you can land it on the company’s infrastructure in multiple ways. You can start working with Kubernetes yourself from within Nutanix’s offering. Formerly called Carbon, this offering now goes by the name Nutanix Kubernetes Engine (NKE). NKE is a basic Kubernetes platform, on which customers can install their own (open-source) Kubernetes tooling. Nutanix ensures that this layer can be upgraded and managed within the Nutanix management platform (PRISM).
Nutanix has additionally chosen RedHat OpenShift as its “preffered” Kubernetes distribution. Jauffret, during our conversation, calls this the Rolls Royce among Kubernetes environments for good reason. The point he wants to make, however, is that it is not Nutanix’s intention to force everyone to that environment. There has to be choice. Hence, in addition to NKE and a partnership with OpenShift, there are also deep integrations with Amazon EKS and Rancher, to name two more popular Kubernetes environments. According to Nutanix, the various environments will continue to coexist.
The challenge here is getting those providers’ tooling to communicate directly with Nutanix’s platform. As such, that is something Nutanix has worked and is working hard on. Most Kubernetes distributions on the market use different methods to integrate with the underlying infrastructure, making it difficult for infrastructure providers to keep up with these integrations.
The industry came up with a project called Cluster API, aimed at providing declarative APIs and tooling to simplify setting up, upgrading and operating multiple Kubernetes clusters while abstracting the infrastructure provider. Nutanix has invested time and resources in developing Cluster API for Nutanix (CAPX), allowing distributions such as Amazon EKS Anywhere to easily integrate with Nutanix infrastructure. However, most distributions need to transition to using upstream Cluster API. This is something Nutanix is working on with its partners, to streamline these integrations by using a standard such as Cluster API.
Nutanix in an open-source world
According to Jauffret, Nutanix does not care which route customers choose. The company offers its customers freedom of choice, according to him. It can help with mapping out the right route, though, should a customer be unsure what to do. Nutanix’ approach does contain some opinionation, as it is called in open source circles. Nutanix is not an open source player. It has an infrastructure that lets it communicate in a certain way with the services running on top of it. From the standpoint of ease of use, in terms of deployment and management, you can’t escape making certain choices that might limit some of the capabilities of the services.
The above ‘limitation’ is not a bad thing, as far as we are concerned. Indeed, if you want to make cloud-native and Kubernetes broadly attractive and thus commercially viable, you will have to make the necessary choices in offerings that may not be entirely according to the ‘rules’ of the open source game. Organizations that turn to a company like Nutanix for Kubernetes services probably do so because they are looking for something that works out-of-the-box. That, then, is what Nutanix focuses on. In order to offer the broadest possible palette, it enters into partnerships. Or as Jauffret puts it, “Nutanix is not open source, but we try to work with as many partners as possible.”
Storage: stateful in a stateless world
One of the challenges surrounding containers is how they handle storage. Containers by nature do not contain application data, making them stateless. Organizations, however, realized that there are also advantages to running stateful applications in those environments. However, by design, storage is not built into Kubernetes. It is up to external vendors to provide persistent storage.
Managing container storage, by the way, is not an easy job. Nutanix aims to bridge this gap by providing dynamic, reliable and high-performance persistent storage on both block and file storage using the Nutanix CSI driver. However, this is only one part of dealing with data. After all, customers also use object storage (S3) and databases with their container applications. This is something the Nutanix Cloud Platform can offer its customers as well. Says Jauffret, “It doesn’t matter if the application needs block, file, object storage or databases, we can handle it.”
Nutanix wants to be the glue
From Nutanix there is also something in the works this year in the area of data and storage, we hear from Jauffret. “Later this year we want to bring the full value of the Nutanix storage stack, for example deduplication, to Kubernetes,” he explains. Furthermore, Nutanix is paying due attention to databases. We already wrote an extensive article about NDB, formerly ERA. This DBaaS platform Nutanix also wants to offer within the world of Kubernetes. Finally, the company also wants to start offering more options around hybrid applications, which use both containers and VMs. Those, of course, need to know which part of the Nutanix infrastructure to address.
At the end of the day, Nutanix’s Kubernetes ambitions can be summed up quite simply. Jauffret does so toward the end of our conversation: “We are the glue.” The glue between underlying infrastructure and Kubernetes, in terms of compute, storage and data. That’s an important part of a hybrid cloud infrastructure. After all, it has to be held together. Nutanix has been doing that for years for the “old world,” but wants to continue to do it for the “new world” as well.