Nutanix CEO: Converged storage makes SAN look like the mainframe

Nutanix CEO interview: How converged storage will make the SAN obsolete; and the threat from VMware’s VSAN storage virtualisation plans

Server and desktop virtualisation have stirred up the world of storage. Virtualisation's massive and random I/O workload has made flash an essential storage medium and new architectures that accommodate it have arisen to meet that need.

Possibly the first company to market so-called converged storage, which merges compute, flash and HDD storage and hypervisor support was Nutanix.

Formed in 2009 and emerging from stealth in 2011, Nutanix offered its Complete Cluster, a datacentre-in-a-box that combined Intel processors with PCIe and traditional format flash in a VMware-ready node that could scale out with other nodes via its Scale Out Converged Storage controller software.

That was the NX-2000 family. Late last year Nutanix launched the beefed-up NX-3000 series and has plans for more members of the family over the coming year.

In this interview, Nutanix president and CEO Dheeraj Pandey talks to storage editor Antony Adshead about the company's converged storage product plans; the software-defined datacentre and whether the SAN is a thing of the past; Nutanix as an acquisition target and the threat from VMware's Virtual SAN storage virtualisation plans.

Adshead: Nutanix already supports VMware and KVM hypervisors. When will it support Microsoft Hyper-V?

Pandey: We will support Hyper-V in a release at the end of 2013. We recognise that, especially in Europe and among SME organisations, Hyper-V is a good fit. This coincides well with our "baby bear" product release, which is due in November and will be targeted at SMEs, with no PCIe flash – only SATA SSD.

Adshead: What's the product roadmap for the coming period from Nutanix?

Pandey: We call the NX-3000 series "mama bear", "papa bear" and "baby bear". Mama bear is the eight-CPU 20TB NX-3400, which was released in December 2012. Papa bear will be a "storage heavy" configuration; 2Us with four CPUs, up to 48TB of capacity, 1TB of RAM and PCIe SSD up to 1.6TB.

Baby bear will have eight CPUs, no PCIe flash and up to 128GB of RAM. Presently we only support 10Gbps network connections but we will look at supporting 1Gbps for the baby bear SME and branch office target market.

We are also working on providing for the service provider business, but that will mostly be in software, multi-tenancy and role-based access control.

Adshead: Flash is changing the way storage looks. It's getting to be essential for virtualised workloads and often that means putting it right next to the CPUs. But, the mainstream suppliers' key array products are all built on pre-SSD architectures, so have we seen the end of the SAN as we know it?

Pandey: Our mission statement is to provide the next generation computing platform, comprising server with spindles and flash, hypervisor support. It's software-defined; we're thinking about apps and virtual machines not LUNs and volumes.

The storage controller should not be on bare metal but on the hypervisor, sitting next to business apps and on commodity hardware. Nutanix is providing the substrate for the software-defined datacentre, which will work more like the Hyperscale datacentres operated by Google and Facebook, fusing datacentre services into one layer of machines. In this world the SAN will start to look like the mainframe.

Adshead: Flash is everywhere now and the big suppliers either need to design new products that build it in from the ground up or acquire start-ups that have done that. That means companies such as Nutanix should, in theory, be prime acquisition targets. Is Nutanix aiming to get bought?

Pandey: I get asked this umpteen times. Look at the fundamentals of the business. We've been doing this for three years and it's been a rapid ramp; 2012 was our first full year and we have done what no company on earth has done and been four to six quarters ahead of the competition with 60% of our money still in the bank.

We do not need a quick exit by being acquired. We have got to try for the next two year to build a big business. Every successful company in the last 10 years had to face incumbent competitors. Data Domain faced EMC, Riverbed faced Juniper.

It's a large enough market and it's a fragmented one with room for a lot of players.

Adshead: Of course, you are not the only company playing in software-defined storage and datacentres. VMware is a big fish and it has its Virtual SAN plans that could pull the rug from under a lot of suppliers up to the entry-level enterprise storage market. Do you see Virtual SAN as a threat?

Pandey: Virtual SAN has been cooking for four and a half years, but when it does come to market it will create an even bigger market for us to play in. Right now the server guys do not have access to storage but they will when Virtual SAN comes along and that will open the market for us too.

Sure you will be able to build your own compute and storage with VMware and Virtual SAN and there are companies in the Fortune 50 that will do this. Outside that 50 it's more likely organisations will want to buy and keep one supplier accountable and have that one throat to choke.


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