Nutanix has recently added many new services to its Hyper-Converged Infrastructure (HCI) solution. This is a reason for us to take stock of the situation at the European edition of the .NEXT conference, which took place in London this year. Exactly one year ago, on .NEXT, we were told that Nutanix wants to make IT infrastructure invisible while aspiring to be the Apple of the data center world. The latter is a comparison that many IT companies are only too happy to draw, but after another three days of exploring Nutanix, we can say that in this area, words have actually been followed by action.
The two key words of Nutanix’ message are ‘invisible’ and ‘Apple’. This is clear to us after several discussions with spokespersons and product demos, but also the extensive keynote in which people often work live with the solutions it offers. Nutanix lives and breathes technology in that respect. This provided us with a relatively simple overview of the steps taken, which we will describe below.
Enterprise Cloud OS
One of the reasons for Nutanix to call itself the Apple of HCI is the presence of an operating system. While the Cupertino-based company runs almost all of its devices on iOS, Nutanix does so with its Enterprise Cloud OS. We understand from the employees that they see their operating system as a platform for running applications. To run these applications, however, a lot of components are needed: compute, storage, networking, security, and so on. So this is where the Hyper-Convergence story comes in.
Certified for SAP HANA
In this area, Nutanix is not afraid to point out exactly what it means by applications. It calls SAP HANA a large app that runs on top of its Enterprise Cloud OS. This comes from being able to provide the infrastructure layer for the German ERP giant, which requires a lot of resources. Of course, SAP makes good use of this.
The developments to promote what both companies can do for each other have not stood still either. The cooperation was recently extended. Not only is the Enterprise Cloud OS certified for SAP HANA production environments, but Nutanix’ AHV hypervisor has also been the only hypervisor certified to run SAP HANA on HCI for several months. Such certification actually shows that SAP has confidence in a range of things that are guaranteed when HANA databases run on HCI. Think of scalability, safety and simplicity.
The latter point is particularly important for Nutanix since simplicity is one of the major points of the company’s solutions. In general, every IT supplier thinks their products are simple, but in this case, there is also confirmation from partners.
During the conference, Nutanix also took the necessary steps to achieve further simplification, including the general availability of Era. Last year, we mentioned Prism, Acropolis and Calm as the most important components of the Enterprise Cloud OS. The HCI solution Acropolis is the package for virtualization, server and networking, Prism is there for management and Calm is the layer that connects the different environments. We would now like to highlight Era as an important part, as it symbolizes the expansion of Enterprise Cloud OS.
Era looks beyond the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) capabilities of Enterprise Cloud OS, by making database operations easier. Era addresses a task that is normally quite complex, namely managing multiple copies of databases. We did not expect such a function from Nutanix a few years ago, as it does go beyond traditional infrastructure solutions.
Initially, version 1, which was launched in London, will have a “Time Machine” for Oracle, MariaDB, Microsoft SQL Server and PostgreSQL. At a later stage, Nutanix promises support for even more database engines, already hinting at SAP HANA. What the time machine basically does is take snapshots of the database, so that the databases running on Nutanix can be restored or cloned. This is possible up to any specific point back in time. According to Nutanix, this is as simple as a daily copy and paste job on your PC, One-Click as it is frequently cited. Based on what we have seen, this comparison is quite close.
Multi-cloud coming in strong
At .NEXT, Nutanix also showed that it has an eye for one of the trends of the moment: multi-cloud. A must, you might say, since there are more and more environments that need to be managed centrally. That is one of the tasks of Nutanix, and the company is aware of that. This is why the general availability of Xi Cloud Services has been announced, a series of solutions for building a uniform infrastructure for different cloud environments.
Of course, this is an extension of Enterprise Cloud OS. An expansion by means of five services, of which Xi Leap may be the most interesting. This service protects applications and data within a Nutanix environment without having to purchase and maintain a separate infrastructure stack. Prism plays an important role in this, as the Leap services are used within it for an integrated public and private cloud experience.
However, Nutanix emphasizes that identifying and bringing together the best of public and private cloud deployments is difficult and leads to infrastructure silos. According to the company, these are spread across on-premise and public cloud deployments. As a result, organizations need to experiment with new workloads in public clouds, while traditional business applications are kept in private cloud data centers. Xi Cloud Services promises to make it easier to integrate cloud services into multi-cloud deployments.
More than HCI
This brings us more and more to the point of how Nutanix views HCI. The company is not just about bringing together compute and storage, but offering a much broader platform that makes all kinds of functionalities possible. For example, features of physical firewalls have been added to Enterprise Cloud OS, such as micro-segmentation to protect workloads.
According to one of the directors, all of this is facilitated by the fact that it is increasingly software-based rather than hardware-based. This is not a new observation, but a very interesting development for Nutanix. For example, the company is much less hindered in adding features to Enterprise Cloud OS. That is certainly important to make the comparison with Apple final, which is based not only on simplicity but also on “an iPod, a phone and an internet communicator”. The iPhone has grown into much more than that. Currently, Nutanix is also in a phase in which it becomes much more than an HCI specialist. If it continues to develop in this way, in a few years there will be an operating system that we would not have been able to estimate at first. Then the comparison with Apple will be even more true.
What are we going to see?
What could help in this mission, and what we initially didn’t see in the complete story of Nutanix, is the role that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can play. If you compare Nutanix’s efforts in this area with how other IT suppliers sometimes turn out, the role of AI is not so prominent. We also raised this issue with one of the directors of Nutanix. We understood from him that emerging technologies are of course on the radar, but that the implementation only takes place when the development is more advanced, and there is a proven added value.
In the meantime, we have reached the point where we can consider AI as having added value, so Nutanix presented an AI solution during .NEXT: Xi IoT Edge. To the outside world, this solution was presented as an edge solution, but after some pressure, Nutanix labeled it as an AI solution. In an article that we will publish, we will discuss Xi IoT Edge in more detail in order to make this development a bit clearer as well.
All in all, we can say that Nutanix has taken quite a few steps towards their keywords ‘invisible’ and ‘Apple’. It’s noticeable that more and more of these are features that offer more than just HCI. Nutanix knows how to get that message across in its entirety, as it has made enough progress to create user-friendliness and new functions. In the coming year, we will undoubtedly see more in this area. Perhaps then the message of the emerging technologies will be immediately visible to a party that aspires to invisibility.