Feature: Nutanix and the rise of data storage applications

By Kieron Bain

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.

Early days

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.”

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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.”

Idea evolution

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.”

The future

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

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