Feature: Nutanix and the rise of data storage applications
Business Review Asia spoke exclusively to Sudheesh Nair, president of Nutanix, who gave us the inside track on the power of intelligent storage in evolving ecommerce.
Computing power is increasing exponentially. Symbiotic relationships occur where new machines interface with the raw, unpredictable real world, enabling humanity to rapidly adapt to constant change.
Data is the lifeblood of this process; greater quantities of data increase the precision of accurate modelling leading to more efficient, streamlined results. But how will these swathes of numbers be managed within a limited processing environment? Nutanix, a US-based hyperconvergence expert, is constructing the architecture necessary to predictively pipe information where it is needed.
We spoke to Sudheesh Nair, President of Nutanix, to understand how this company’s innovative approach is revolutionising the way commerce uses storage solutions.
Nair met with the founders of Nutanix in 2001 while working in the Bay area startup scene. Each went their separate ways, either to larger organisations like Google or back into the foray of innovation, but upon regrouping in 2009, the idea for the company that evolved into Nutanix was born.
An expert was required to take the beta and alpha products to market and manage field operations. Nair’s name was thrown into the hat. Speaking about the early days, he observes: “Most major startups have two or three diversions from the original mission. This wasn’t the case with Nutanix. Our vision engages two disciplines: the first is the public cloud and the second is the bridge between the consumer’s architecture and their own choice of public cloud vendor.”
Storage as an Application
How did the company evolve from this initial point? “The next step was to take storage and virtualise it as an application, before releasing it as a product. We called this hyperconvergence. While many of the established giants of the hardware industry made millions of dollars selling storage arrays, our application distributes data and utilises storage across the entire network.
“There’s no need for a monolithic machine with this dynamic environment that provides capacity where required. Think about how computers take other technologies, like music players, video editing equipment and calculators and create them as software applications. Nutanix replicates this idea with storage.”
As an example, Nair illustrates: “You’re running a storage intensive system. You have a couple of choices. Either you purchase storage only nodes with reduced processing power or you select an application capable of intelligently managing the storage on your network. Factor in technology that predicts what data will be accessed by your processes and you have a fast swap system that can be constructed on large computational units with very little storage capacity.”
After developing this powerful storage application, it was time for Nutanix to go further. Regarding the evolution of the business, Nair explains: “Our mission was not to simply build hyperconvergence. It was much more than that. Virtualisation is powered by VM-ware, developed in 2001, allowing processing time to become a commodity as you split workloads between servers.
“We wanted to allow our clients to commercially exploit storage in a similar fashion by building Acropolis, a new virtualisation software that delivers on three fronts. One: support for both VMs and containers natively. Two: the security that is necessary for a hybrid cloud environment. Three: the ability to move workloads between data centres.”
Moving away from the innovation-space, Nair discusses how Nutanix engages the business world with these high-powered and agile storage applications. “As much as I like talking about hyperconvergence, companies don’t care about this technology. Pressure is coming from consumers to increase the number of services available to them. The final part of the puzzle is making entire systems invisible. All end-users and IT teams see is the application. They don’t need to be concerned with how the solution works or fits into their existing architecture.
“We call this Prism. It positions the right application at the right node at the right time, allowing the management complexity to be significantly reduced. Tech teams still retain access to full system analytics to understand how the storage application is being utilised, but do not have to approve every decision on the network.”
Approaching markets – a competitive stance
All of this sounds both innovative and attractive. Ask anyone who works in large corporate organisations, however, and they will inform you that change is a difficult and often arduous process.
How does Nutanix plan to engage larger clients? Nair discusses the company’s acquisition and development strategy: “To gain traction you need a really good go-to-market machine, and our creativity stretches across all disciplines. When we started we did not have legacy customers holding us back. This allowed us to innovate within the customer engagement sphere. Combine this with automated level one and two support functions as a cornerstone in building our approach from the ground up.
“We partner sellers on a worldwide basis. Our philosophy is to become a local-global company. You need a degree of location-sensitive savvy, achieved through strong relationships. In China we partner with Lenovo, helping us with distribution across Asia. They recommend our solution, and we have found that trust between them and their clients is more important than knowledge. This market has been burned from making relationships with US startups which have failed to deliver.”
Broaching frontiers – new attitudes
To cope with the evolving attitudes of today’s marketplace, Nair explains Nutanix’s philosophy: “Our sales organisation is very engineering-centric – the days of salesmen going places and delivering a brochure are over. Social media has replaced a large degree of the sales process. When a customer gives you an hour, this is an opportunity to show how you will customise your product to fit in with their aims, needs and objectives. ‘Show up and throw up’ selling has had its day. Companies know your product. They want to know how your solution will solve their specific problem.”
Hyperconvergence – tonic for all?
Does Nair believe that hyperconvergence should be implemented by all companies? “Replacing traditional architecture is not the game,” he argues. “Think about how long it takes to set up a sequel server, together with the management fabric and support functions. If the public cloud is more cost-effective, business will be driven towards this environment. There are disadvantages however; companies are locked into public cloud APIs and they have lost control of the architecture in favour of the vendor.
“Our viewpoint is very simple. Processes should be simple without the need for employees plugging in cables or writing code. Hyperconvergence is the platform on which the enterprise cloud is constructed. Virtualisation stack, automated stack, self-service capabilities, mobility between public cloud; these pieces come together to deliver a public cloud experience with allowing the customer to use the facility in line with their own expectations.
Broadcasting the message
To help companies understand hyperconvergence, Nutanix launched the .Next series of lectures. Nair expands on this potential learning experience: “There are two conferences. One in the US, the other in Europe. We want to get our customers together and get them sharing information on how they utilise hyperconvergence within their business. With .Next on tour, we take this forum out on a worldwide basis to interact with local customers, using our local-global approach. It is not about selling, but rather a resource pooling exercise that allows Nutanix to better understand customers, industry trends and movements.
“I have learned that no-one can sell our product better than our customers. If I can put 10 prospects and 100 customers in a room, then I am going to walk away with more potential new business than any activity I can lead on my own.”
What is the future for Nutanix? With technology embedded in many aspects of modern life, hyperconvergence could enable new subsidiary technologies to blossom. “We are experiencing a large degree of activity in the world of IoT (internet of things) as hyperconvergence allows the data generated by cars, oil rigs, shipping tankers, aircraft and every device to be collated and utilised to build an electronic map of the world. What do you do with this amount of data? Nutanix takes the cloud to the process.
“This is a very exciting process for us. At the beginning of November, we plan to explore our new product Intelligent Edge with the upcoming set of .Next tours. We will require more partnerships with bigger players, such as Google, one of the leaders in machine thinkers. We want to be an integral part of the oncoming rise of IoT.”
Find out more about Nutanix on the company website at www.nutanix.com
Why Alibaba Cloud is doubling down in Southeast Asia
Alibaba has announced expansion of its cloud business within Southeast Asia, with the introduction of a digital upskilling programme for locals alongside acceleration of its data centre openings.
This doubling down of its cloud business in Southeast Asia comes as the company faces stiff competition at home in China from rivals including Pinduoduo Inc and Tencent and seeks to up its game in a region considered to be the fastest-growing in cloud adoption to compete with leading global cloud providers AWS, Google and Microsoft.
Alibaba Cloud, the cloud computing arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and second biggest revenue driver after its core e-commerce business, finally turned profitable for the first time in the December 2020 following 11 years of operation, thanks largely to the pandemic which has spurred businesses and consumers to get online.
Southeast Asia growing demand for cloud
In 2020, there was a noticeable increase in interest towards cloud in SE Asia, with the population embracing digital transformation during the pandemic and SMEs across the region showing increased demand for cloud computing.
Such demand has led to the expectation that Southeast Asia is now the fastest-growing adopter of cloud computing with the cloud market expected to reach US$40.32bn in Southeast Asia by 2025 according to IDC.
And there are plenty of players vying for a slice of the cloud pie. While AWS, the cloud arm of Amazon, is the leading player in Southeast Asia (and across all of APAC apart from China), Microsoft and Google are the next two most dominant players in Southeast Asia with Alibaba coming in fourth.
“There is no doubt that during the past year we have seen the acceleration of digital transformation efforts across all industries,” explains Ahmed Mazhari, President, Microsoft Asia. “Asia now accounts for 60% of the world’s growth and is leading the global recovery with the digitalization of business models and economies. Cloud will continue to be a core foundation empowering the realization of Asia’s ambitions, enabling co-innovation across industries, government and community, to drive inclusive societal progress.”
Alibaba’s commitment to Southeast Asia
At its annual Alibaba Cloud Summit, the Chinese company announced Project AsiaForward, an initiative designed to upskill local developers, small-to-medium-sized companies and connect businesses with venture capital. Alibaba said it would set aside US$1bn over the next three years to develop digital skills in the region, with the aim of helping to develop 100,000 developers and to help grow 100,000 tech startups.
But that’s not all. The company, which recently opened its third data centre in Indonesia, serving customers with offerings across database, security, network, machine learning and data analytics services, also announced it would unveil its first data centre in the Philippines by the end of 2021.
Furthermore, that it would establish its first international innovation centre, located in Malaysia, offering a one-stop shop platform for Malaysian SMEs, startups and developers to innovate in emerging technologies.
“We are seeing a strong demand for cloud-native technologies in emerging verticals across the region, from e-commerce and logistics platforms to FinTech and online entertainment. As the leading cloud service provider and trusted partner in APAC, we are committed to bettering the region’s cloud ecosystem and enhancing its digital infrastructure,” says Jeff Zhang, President, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence.
What other cloud providers are pledging in the region
This pledge by Alibaba to upskill both individuals and businesses follows Microsoft’s announcement in April that it was planning to upskill Malaysia’s population and would invest US$1bn over the next five years to build a new data centre centre in Malaysia.
This is the latest in a long line of pledges to the region by the US tech giant, which is fast accelerating the growth of its cloud datacenter footprint in Asia, expanding form seven 11 markets, and recently adding three new markets across Asia – Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan. Back in February, it announced plans to establish its first datacenter region in Indonesia and to skill an additional 3 million Indonesians to achieve its goal of empowering over 24 million Indonesians by the end of 2021.
And recent research by IDC shows that Microsoft’s most recent datacenter expansions in Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan alone are set to generate more than US$21bn in new revenues and will create 100,000 new jobs in the next four years.
Also last month, Tencent announced it has launched internet data centres in Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo to add to its second availability zone opened in Korea last year and plans to add an internet data center in Indonesia, and Google has also been pushing into the enterprise space in Southeast Asia for several years now.
Expanding data centers allows cloud providers to boost their capacity in certain countries or regions.