“Who’s gonna suck up the complexity?”
It’s not just a rhetorical question thrown out by Bob Baxley, who headed up design at Pinterest, during a keynote panel at Nutanix’s sold-out NEXT conference, held this week in Las Vegas. The company made some news, rolling out a broader array of application support options in its enterprise cloud platform, including a new containerization system; all-flash nodes; and more self-service and modeling capabilities in an effort to widen its footprint in customer data centers. But its big message for attendees is that it’s time to “make the infrastructure invisible” by abstracting complexity and delivering an on-premises private cloud that operates as simply as spinning up a server in AWS.
Conference numbers beat the company’s expectations, with more than 2,500 attendees – about 500 of them partner employees, up from 150 last year – and close to 50 sponsors, including Dell, Intel and Lenovo at platinum level. Channel regulars Brocade, CDW, Citrix, Juniper, Silver Peak and Zerto were joined by hot startups looking to build on Nutanix’s strong growth.
How strong? Terry Buchanan, VP technology & general manager of Ontario-based solutions provider Zycom Technology says that five years ago, his Toronto territory represented a couple of percentage points of overall company revenue. Now, it’s 39 percent, with about 75 percent of that coming from sales of Nutanix gear and services.
“Our revenue from Nutanix will more than double over last year by July,” said Buchanan. “What we did last year, we will probably do in Nutanix’s Q1. Customers are happy, and they’re repeat customers.”
They’re also making referrals. Terry says his team is closing, on average, one net new logo every four to six weeks, and he says the new SMB-focused Xpress platform and InstantON VDI products are further expanding the range of potential customers.
“Nutanix went from being a very cool partner three years ago to being our No. 1 strategic partner because of how everything ties into that cloud platform,” he said. “We’re just getting started.”
Vinu Thomas, CTO for Presidio, says that Nutanix has also become one of the solutions provider’s key suppliers thanks in large part to continuous improvements in performance and functionality without sacrificing ease of use and messaging.
“As a company starts to grow, complexity starts to sneak in,” said Thomas. “What’s made me happy is that they’ve maintained simplicity. Any new feature that they’ve come out with is simple enough that we can easily sell it, and it’s not a forklift upgrade. An example is the ability to swap in all-flash nodes.”
Thomas admits that the hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) space is still evolving; Presidio does continuous competitive analysis and is a strategic partner for Cisco, EMC and VMware, all HCI players. But he considers Nutanix the leader in innovation and ease of deployment.
Chris Morgan, Nutanix’s VP, channels and distribution, Americas, U.S. federal and EMEA, says limiting complexity also extends to the company’s partner program, which is undoubtedly more straightforward than those of HCI competitors, notably Cisco. (See our channel Q&A with Morgan here.)
“We don’t come out with a market basket of different entitlements,” says Morgan. “I’m not going to get in a rebate war with someone that’s got $6 billion in cash on their balance sheet.”
Instead, he’s funneling investments to Nutanix partners that have decided they want deep engagement. He’s also willing to get creative, saying Nutanix has done about 14 large investments in the last two quarters. He built a dedicated sales district around one solutions provider and is working to help a former NetApp partner shift its customers to Nutanix.
“We take a programmatic approach to the channel,” he says, with ROI analysis of all spend. “We’ve seen $40 in revenue for every dollar invested.”
Partners we spoke with at the show say margins on Nutanix hardware are around 15-20 percent. The money is in services. Zycom, for example, offers cluster deployments, disaster recovery, backup integration and workload migrations, while Presidio’s Thomas says the Nutanix back end is ideal for selective VDI rollouts.
“Some customers say Nutanix is the Apple of the data center,” said Thomas. “It works seamlessly.”
Channel Partners attended Nutanix NEXT. Flip through our image gallery for event highlights.
Nutanix executives, including founder Dheeraj Pandey, walked attendees through a list of announcements during Nutanix NEXT, held this week in Las Vegas.
“How do we create lightbulb moments when people are busy keeping the lights on?” Pandey asked the crowd. It’s a dilemma for both partner and customer attendees. Nutanix’s answer is to automate the day-to-day running of customer infrastructures as much as possible and focus on ease of use. In fact, Pandey stated that the company is looking to emulate the simplicity of Amazon Web Services while enabling customers to keep workloads on premises.
Popular with partner attendees: OpenStack drivers to build private clouds using OpenStack software, available now. One-click upgrades are on tap for the full stack, from BIOS on up — an announcement that drew loud applause from the keynote crowd, as did news that IT also no longer needs to log in to vCenter to manage ESXi. Seems mundane, but these are the sort of features that save partners time.
Other applause lines include the news that Nutanix now supports containers and bare-metal servers on equal footing with VMs. The new Acropolis Container Services enables IT or partners to deploy containerized applications on the Nutanix platform with persistent storage. Support for applications that require bare metal is via the new Acropolis Block Services; databases running on Cisco, Dell, Lenovo and HP hardware can directly access Nutanix’s Acropolis Distributed Storage Fabric, which enables IT to run web-scale services across multiple storage protocols.
Acropolis Block Services and Acropolis Container Services will be available next month in the 4.7 release.
Nutanix also announced that all-flash nodes are now available, “at a modest premium,” across its full portfolio of appliances. That offers Nutanix partners an alternative to all-flash arrays from the likes of EMC, NetApp and Pure Storage — and a way to better support VDI deployments.
The newly announced Nutanix Prism self-service capabilities are about enabling developers and divisional IT to provision applications and their associated infrastructure resources, while still allowing central control. Of interest to partners at the show is Prism’s One-click Planning scenario-based modeling, based on Nutanix’s X-Fit machine intelligence. A partner could quickly help customers model the effect of any proposed infrastructure changes to application performance and availability. A related new dynamic scheduling tool enables IT to analyze utilization of compute, memory and storage resources before deciding where to place VMs, while integrated network visualization provides a view into how VMs are connected to both physical and virtual networks, making it easier to spot and fix problems.
Mike Tempora, SVP, product management, said Vonage partners with Nutanix to offer its 65,000 business customers IaaS, cloud backup and virtual desktops, and other services. The architecture enables them to keep customers up and running while making IT problems “invisible to them.”
“We’re going to continue to differentiate based on communications capabilities and enhancements to the cloud services we provide,” said Tempora. “We’re looking to work closely with [Nutanix] to streamline our infrastructure, become more efficient and enhance our cloud stack.”
See more from Tempora on how Vonage is working with Nutanix here.
Kevin Luu, T-Mobile’s senior director of infrastructure and DevOps, also addressed the keynote crowd. An AWS shop, T-Mobile is “pretty strict about what we allow to go into the cloud,” said Luu. “We don’t uplift and ship legacy apps.” Still, he says Nutanix has helped the carrier achieve “tremendous growth” in the past three years, going from 35 million to 65 million customers.
“Apologies to the AT&T and Verizon folks out there,” said Luu.
That message on cloud discipline was echoed by Presidio’s Thomas, who also observed that line-of-business customers don’t care about plumbing. They want agile, secure and scalable, without breaking the bank. As a result, he’s seeing some customers coming back from mostly public cloud. Thomas expects the ultimate mix to be about 70 percent on-premises to 30 percent public cloud for enterprises, with applications that are predictable and need to scale being ideal for Nutanix in the data center.
Presidio uses a capacity-on-demand sales model, where they place multiple nodes in a customer data center and activate them only when needed.
“That’s been really great for the SMB market,” said Thomas, because it makes internal infrastructure resemble an on-demand public cloud.
He also says partners need to invest in technical expertise. Presidio has a three-to-one engineer-to-sales ratio, with 1,600 engineers on payroll building what Thomas calls “bespoke solutions” that abstract technical complexity.
“If you as a partner are not able to offer simple solutions, you’re not going to be in business,” he said. “It’s not like you can make a lot of money just selling hardware anymore.”
NASDAQ is another premier Nutanix partner, and Jake Yang, director, global infrastructure, took the stage to discuss hypervisors. The exchange is officially agnostic, running whatever VM is best for a given workload — and not all workloads need heavy-duty hypervisors.
“With VMware, we’re probably using 80 percent of the feature set and paying for 100 percent,” said Yang.
That brought up a head-scratcher at the conference: the relatively modest uptake of Nutanix’s native Acropolis Hypervisor and VM management software.
While customers can run any hypervisor on Nutanix’s own or OEM hardware, AHV, which is based on a hardened version of KVM, is bundled and eliminates “the virtualization tax,” which can run into a hefty sum. Given that, the 15 percent adoption rate on Nutanix appliances announced at the show seems anemic. Zycom’s Buchanan attributes the lag to the “no one ever got fired for buying VMware” effect.
AHV clearly competes most directly with ESXi, and NEXT revealed some strains in the Nutanix/VMware relationship as Dell and EMC edge closer.
“We love VMware,” said CMO Howard Ting, while comparing the company’s customers and channel and technology partners to a family. “We love them probably like our mother-in-law.” He went on to suggest that the role of EMC reps is now to fetch coffee. Both jabs drew applause.
One thing Nutanix does not lack is swagger.
The crowd was also enthusiastic about a partnership with Microsoft to integrate the Microsoft Cloud Platform System Standard with Nutanix’s enterprise cloud platform, providing an Azure “cloud-in-a-box.” That’s expected by next month and comes with full-stack support from Nutanix, which Buchanan says is key for partners: “Their Level 1 support is like most vendors’ Level 4.”
That impressive growth curve? It’s all delivered via software updates. Buchanan says Zycom has customers running almost-four-year-old Nutanix appliances that perform as well as new systems. Only one drive has failed.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 43 percent customer adoption for the 4.6 release took just 100 days. Version 4.7 is shipping soon, closely followed by the next iteration, code-named Asterix. A good rundown of exactly what will be included is here.
The message for partners: You can deliver continuous infrastructure performance and functionality gains to customers for no, or minimal, additional investment in hardware or software, freeing budget for services more directly visible to lines of business.
One high point for partners is the free Community Edition, a 100-percent software “portable data center in a box” version of Nutanix’s enterprise cloud that can run on any hardware. It’s a way to get familiar with the system without an investment.
The sky, apparently, is the limit when it comes to product opportunities as well. A demo of Nutanix CE inside a palm-size Intel NUC driving an autonomous drone was a hit with the audience. Sorry, too busy watching to get a photo.
Nutanix is officially hardware, OS and application agnostic. However, some technology partners got more love than others (see keynote digs at VMware and EMC).
For example, channel chief Morgan was upbeat about the Nutanix/Lenovo partnership in a briefing. Not as much about the HP split and particularly Dell’s pending EMC deal. His reasoning is interesting.
“I’m waiting for someone to explain how these are good for the customer,” said Morgan. “They all talk about how they’re good for the shareholder, or good for Wall Street, or why they’re good for their operations or their prospects. That’s why I call the EMC/Dell deal ‘the gift that keeps on giving.’”
Of course, Nutanix is poised to have its own IPO. Is Morgan worried he’ll face the same shareholder pressures?
“I look to our leadership team as a bunch of smart people who know we’re trying to build lasting value for our customers,” he said. “To be at this point in our growth with this kind of credibility and with this kind of product at a time when there’s this much chaos with the legacy guys — you can’t ask for more.”
As to pressure from VxRail, which is rumored to be due for a price cut, and gear from other maturing HCI vendors, Morgan says he isn’t concerned.
“The first bullet out of the gun is a price cut — I don’t get it,” he said. “If you’ve got value, you’re able to charge for it. You don’t price cut when you have value. I think it’s almost a white flag of surrender right out of the gate.”
The expo floor hosted some interesting new channel-centric vendors. Pluribus Networks, for example, offers software-defined networking by delivering a top-of-rack or spine array where as many as 100 switches can be managed as a single fabric.
VP of marketing Rob Harris says the company is now 60 percent channel sales but is looking to increase that number to 100 percent. “Our salespeople get a premium for going through the channel,” said Harris.
Pluribus offers its Virtualization-Centric Fabric (VCF) technology in an appliance or through Linux software that can run on inexpensive open switches, like those from Dell. It’s also winning business from Gigamon with its built-in network visibility, performance monitoring, security and trouble-shooting capabilities.
The product allows for virtual ports that follow VMs or containers. Similar functionality is available in VMware NSX but requires agents; Pluribus is agentless.
Rubrik’s slogan is “Data protection. Simplified.” Technical evangelist Chris Wahl says the company is 100 percent channel and can go from “box to backup of 10,000 files in one hour.”
The core product is a plug-and-play 2U appliance, called a Brik (pun intended) that combines cloud backup and recovery software, catalog management, replication, archiving and deduplication and supports REST APIs. Briks can scale linearly and be placed at multiple sites. The newest model includes encryption of data at rest and in transit.
Wahl says partners simply help customers set policies, such as desired SLAs, RTO and RPO, and set the appliances to implement those rules automatically. He recently wrote a blog that suggests we may, finally, be able to stick a fork in tape drives.
Rubrik’s concept of converging backup and recovery won’t sit well with all customer IT teams, but it does align with Nutanix’s message of making data-center plumbing as simple and scalable as possible.
Zerto’s booth was hopping. We recently attended ZertoCon in Boston and saw some of the same faces here.
Zerto provides disaster-recovery and business-continuity software designed for virtualized data centers and cloud environments. Its Cloud Continuity Platform is for customers that need to protect virtualized workloads moving among public, private and hybrid clouds. Zerto Virtual Replication covers applications in cloud and virtualized data centers.
Judging from the excitement on the floor and in the expo hall, partners with data-center practices should look into Nutanix. Between the Xpress SMB and Community Edition offerings, the products are more accessible than in the past.
“We always heard, ‘Nutanix ix too expensive,'” said Buchanan. “Not anymore.”