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Nutanix: Time To Ban The SAN

Go big or go home seems to be the philosophy of Nutanix, whose initial product aims to ban the SAN from virtualized data centers. It says that the Complete Cluster, an all-in-one, scale-out converged solution, enables customers to save 40% to 60% on equipment alone for Nutanix-based virtualization projects.

At the heart of the cluster is a distributed system software layer, designed specifically for virtualization, that converges compute and storage into a single tier, and is optimized to make use of flash SSDs in its core architecture. The company says that this converged architecture approach, pioneered by Google, supports virtualization capabilities such as VMware’s vMotion, High Availability (HA) and Dynamic Resource Scheduling (DRS), along with data management features that include virtual machine cloning, capacity optimization, and converged backup for instant backup and recovery of virtual machine data without requiring external backup appliances.

Available now, customers can start with a single Nutanix Complete Block, a 2U unit including four x86 nodes containing eight Intel Xeon processors and 192 Gbytes RAM (upgradable to 768 Gbytes), along with 1.3 Tbytes of Fusion-io, 1.2 Tbytes of SATA SSD and 20 Tbytes of SATA drives, running an industry-standard hypervisor (VMware ESXi). Deployment takes less than 30 minutes, and expansion requires only adding another block. (Blocks start at $75,000 each.)

The biggest strength of the cluster is the elimination of the network bottleneck between the data and the CPUs, says Aberdeen analyst Dick Csaplar. "With the data stored internally in the server, the computing process can be kept refreshed and up to date more efficiently than having to make calls to an independent and remote storage device."

He says dealing with storage and computing as a single tier is being done, but not in a commercially offered, prepackaged solution targeting the midsize to large enterprise. "I don't know of any other start-ups focused on this area, as most companies take an on-site SAN or NAS as a given." Csaplar adds that Nutanix can find real traction for its targeted use cases because eliminating the need for expensive SAN devices will always interest people. "It also offers a way for companies to take advantage of these tremendously large, low-cost 3 Tbyte HDDs that are available. Also, bringing SSDs close to the compute function will become more common, particularly as these drop in price."

John Abbott, chief analyst, The 451 Group, says Nutanix's product builds on the recent developments of modular, scale-out storage begun by LeftHand Networks (now HP) and EqualLogic (now Dell). These solutions have proven quite popular, but Nutanix's product adds the missing server and storage convergence piece. However, industry powerhouses NetApp and EMC are pushing a different story: Converged SAN and NAS, to some effect, and Nutanix is still working on its support for NFS.
"Nutanix has integrated the server and storage tiers more closely than most other vendors into a self-contained appliance. However, other startups (such as Tintri and Pivot3) have fairly similar architectures, while all the major vendors (Cisco, Dell, HP and IBM) are continuing to put substantial R&D into convergence."

The company offers another option to consider instead of traditional standalone NAS or SAN systems: Network storage wasn't designed to support virtualization and cloud environments, says Abbott. "Nutanix has a much lower entry point than the giant converged systems, such as the EMC/Cisco/VMware VBlock. It could also prove to be a useful simplification of the storage problem for those customers implementing virtual desktop infrastructure."

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