Insights / Blog / Nutanix Transcends HCI Roots As It Eyes ‘One Operating Model’ for All Apps
May 29, 2024

Nutanix Transcends HCI Roots As It Eyes ‘One Operating Model’ for All Apps

Simon Robinson
Principal Analyst, Infrastructure

Market Topics

Infrastructure

Nutanix launched a blitz of product, partnership and future direction announcements at its Next conference in Barcelona, all aimed at capitalizing on what it believes is an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate its growth in the IT infrastructure market. Collectively, the announcements underscore that Nutanix is transcending its hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) roots in a bid to deliver a single operating model for all applications, no matter where they reside. As enterprise IT organizations contemplate their adoption of modern applications and AI, these are important developments for customers looking to make strategic bets on their future infrastructure strategies.

Nutanix’s focus areas can be broken down into two broad categories. The first is developments designed to strengthen its position in and around HCI, the company’s core market that drives most of its business today. Overall, Nutanix sees a substantial growth opportunity here, especially among larger organizations, driven by its ability to drive operational simplicity for virtualized workloads, as well as taking advantage of what it calls a “storm” of uncertainty in the wake of VMware’s acquisition by Broadcom. According to research from TechTarget’s Enterprise Strategy Group, HCI continues to be viewed favorably by organizations deploying it; 84% of respondents said HCI deployments had helped them become more agile, while 82% agreed that HCI is core to their data center modernization plans.

At Next, Nutanix announced a raft of measures aimed at reducing the hardware switching costs for customers moving to its HCI platform; these included expanded partnerships with Cisco and Dell, as well as support for VMware vSAN Ready Nodes. As well as improved support for hardware nodes that can be dedicated to compute, storage or both, this will also include support for third-party external storage for the first time, in the form of Dell’s PowerFlex IP-based storage offering—further highlighting that Nutanix is entering a more pragmatic phase in its development that is aimed at capturing as much opportunity as possible. The expanded partnership with Cisco is also worth noting, given Cisco’s decision to terminate its own Hyperflex HCI software, replacing it with the Nutanix partnership, as it will see Nutanix software running on Cisco’s rack and blade servers, as well as closer product engineering, sales, and support efforts. Other forthcoming HCI additions from Nutanix included new secure snapshot capabilities aimed at offering further protection against ransomware attacks, as well as expanded metro-distance multisite disaster recovery.

But as important as virtualized applications are to most organizations, the future of application infrastructure is shaping up very differently, and Nutanix wants a slice of this pie as well. Indeed, the company is positioning to help its customers make the transition from virtualized apps to modern- and cloud-native apps running container-based technologies, offering them a single operating model that spans the entire gamut of applications across the hybrid multi-cloud. This also includes AI, and the company announced a partnership with HuggingFace, as well as updating its ‘ChatGPT in a box’ capability that offers more automated workflows and integration with Nvidia Nim.

Although, Nutanix has been headed down the cloud native path for some time, the announcements at Next represented a significant doubling down on this commitment, spurred on by the fact that many customers are now “pulling” it into Kubernetes-related conversations, rather than them having to be pushed into it. The drivers here are two-fold: many customers are now starting to build Kubernetes-based apps on premises, not just in the cloud, and in many larger organizations the adoption of multiple Kubernetes environments by multiple DevOps teams is now becoming a major problem in itself, creating operational consistency and potential security challenges for IT and platform engineering functions charged with maintaining the overall environment.

Nutanix’s response here, once again, is multipronged. The “big news” was the Nutanix Kubernetes Platform (NKP), a combination of its existing Nutanix Kubernetes Engine and the technology acquired with D2IQ, formerly Mesosphere, last year. When released in the second half of the year, NKP will offer a full range of CNCF-compliant capabilities to bring a consolidated runtime, orchestration and management environment to customers—crucially, this will include support for third-party Kubernetes orchestration such as RedHat OpenShift, Rancher, Amazon EKS, Google, etc.

And that wasn’t all. Looking further out, Nutanix envisions a future where customers can run “any app on any cloud,” all underpinned by its software to offer a consistent, unified operating model. Nutanix has been sufficiently encouraged by interest in Project Beacon—a multiyear project spanning a portfolio of IaaS and PaaS capabilities that aims to enable developers to build data-centric applications once and run them anywhere—to increase its engineering efforts in this area. For example, it previewed Cloud Native AOS—a version of its core Acropolis Operating System—that will be delivered as a container-based platform to run in the public cloud.

The first service to be built using Cloud Native AOS will be Nutanix Data Services for Kubernetes. This will bring rich data management aspects that Nutanix is known for in its HCI form, such as snapshots and clones, to persistent container services. It will run initially on AWS EKS. Other services, spanning cloud-based files and database services, are also planned.

Nutanix believes these services will much more easily maintain data access for cloud native applications in the event of cloud failures, a process today that is technically possible, but highly complex and costly. Additionally, it aims to enable the portability of applications between cloud providers, forming the foundation of a suite of data-centric multi-cloud PaaS capabilities.

Summary and What’s Next

The breadth and depth of announcements at Next underscore both the scope of ambition at Nutanix and a new level of pragmatism at the company to do whatever is necessary to maximize its market opportunity. That market remains competitive, with much larger VMware the dominant, but far from the only, rival. Nutanix still has much to do to translate its vision into reality—although this company of engineers has a stellar track record of delivery. Arguably the bigger challenge for Nutanix is to establish itself as a valid provider among a new cohort of platform engineers, where it might be a much lesser known entity. Although that is a challenge not unique to Nutanix, the company seems to have the appetite and vision to achieve this. It will be fascinating to watch its strategy here evolve.

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