Nutanix Opens A War On Multiple Fronts With New Product Features
Nutanix announced today, at its .NEXT conference, that version 4.7 of its hyper-converged software platform, the Acropolis hypervisor and associated PRISM management component, will extend outside of its traditional hyperconverged infrastructure into containers and storage services.
Acropolis Containers Services is the name of the new container-targeted function, which will permit “containerized applications and emerging microservices architectures” to be deployed directly on Nutanix gear. How exactly this will work is unclear, so I’ll need to dive into this in more detail with the company during the conference. Given that DockerCon is running this week as well, this announcement feels timed to take advantage of the interest in containers that’s running hot at the moment.
The company makes what I feel is a big call in this announcement, saying that “While the majority of services are now virtualized and will be moving to containers…” [emphasis mine]. I disagree, though in conversation yesterday with Eric Wright, Principal Solutions Engineer/Technology Evangelist at VMTurbo, he mentioned that we, as an industry, “are going to make a lot of mistakes with containers while we figure out how best to use them.” His analogy was that of P2V migrations that happened in the early days of virtualization, where people just grabbed an existing server and made it virtual, without taking advantage of the different operational possibilities of virtual machines.
I suspect the method for containers is going to be similar: take an existing workload, wrap it in a container, and now everything is better… because containers are apparently magic. There are going to be a lot of disappointed people when the illusion is broken.
Nutanix has paired this container announcement with a storage one: Acropolis Block Services, because “certain applications such as Oracle RAC and DB2 may continue to run on bare metal servers due to specific application needs or licensing constraints” according to the press release. Nutanix are also going to release OpenStack drivers, which I assume means Cinder drivers, but I’ll be chasing up more about that.
This sounds a lot like Nutanix becoming a SAN to me, which is hugely ironic given the company’s early No-SAN marketing.
No-SAN no more?
Righto. So what does this all mean?
The company is calling itself an ‘enterprise cloud’ company now, which appears to be a fancy term for hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). Why do this? Because it sounds more important, and different, than merely HCI. Nutanix has to do this ahead of its IPO because with increased competition (discussed previously) the company needs to position as being in a bigger market, which implies a bigger upside potential for growth. Adding container support (a hot and fast-growing market) and direct storage services (which will never go away) do exactly that: expand the Total Addressable Market in ways that should please investors focused on growth rather than profits.
The alternative is a bloody market-share battle with VMware ESXi nodes “in a subsequent release.” Fighting a war on multiple fronts could start getting expensive, though, and some of these competitors have deep pockets.
The announcements from Nutanix over the past six months — Prism-Pro, the Xpress line, and now Acropolis Container Services and Acropolis Block Services — are all aimed at demonstrating that Nutanix is branching out from its original product into new areas to broaden its opportunities for growth. It’s an inflection point for the company, and marks the latest milestone in its journey to becoming a grown-up company instead of a startup.
How Nutanix manages this transition will make or break the company.
The extension into storage services is a natural one for a company based on what is, at its heart, a storage product with some compute on top. The whole No-SAN marketing angle was far too much “the lady doth protest too much, methinks” for my liking, and I am already rolling my eyes in anticipation of the competitive responses that will be arriving in my inbox shortly. I can see the logic of extending into this market, but it raises many questions for me, not least is that storage is extremely crowded right now and it’s going to be a messy battle for market-share as startups thrash about as the end of their runway looms towards them.
The whole Xpress line bothers me a lot. Again, it’s a crowded market, and going down-market with what appears to be a cut-down version of the headline product feels wrong to me. Nutanix has always been positioned as a high-end product. Sure, it’s expensive, but it works well and customers love it. How do you appeal to a very different market and still keep the core of the brand the same? And if you’re changing it, how do you do that without losing the very customers you’ve built the company with? Many other companies have tried this route and failed, so what exactly are Nutanix going to do that means they will succeed where others have not?
I hope to have my fears assuaged this week as I talk with Nutanix and its partner and customer ecosystem.
There are plenty of competitors — and others — who would love to see Nutanix fail, but I’m not one of them. I’m not a fan of the, at times, breathless and needlessly aggressive marketing, for example, but then again I’m not the head of a multi-billion dollar company built from nothing, so what do I know?
This article first appeared in Forbes.com here.