IBM and Nutanix Ink Hyperscale Alliance

By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc.  May 17, 2017

IT vendors typically engage in strategic alliances for two reasons: 1) to extend the market reach of their existing products, and 2) to explore potential new markets and use cases. The new alliance between IBM and Nutanix pushes those two hot buttons for both companies.

What are Nutanix and IBM planning to do? In short, the initiative aims to port the former’s Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV), Prism management software and Acropolis Container Services (ACS) to the latter’s Power Systems platform. That will result in turnkey, hyperconverged, Power-based solutions for large global enterprises.

Which workloads and applications will be targeted? IBM and Nutanix noted three areas of particular interest:

  1. Next-gen cognitive workloads, like big data, machine learning and AI
  2. Mission-critical workloads, such as databases, large-scale data warehouses, web infrastructures and mainstream enterprise apps
  3. Cloud-native workloads, including full-stack, open source middleware and enterprise databases, and containers

Strategic symmetry

Is this a good idea and, if so, why? Probably yes, for both strategic and practical reasons.

Strategically, both IBM’s Power Systems group and Nutanix are coming under increasing pressure from muscular rivals. In IBM’s case, the evolution of Intel’s Xeon silicon has enabled that company to dominate volume server sales, and establish leadership positions in growth areas, like high performance computing (HPC) and public cloud.

IBM’s Power Systems leadership has taken a number of steps that would have been mostly unthinkable a decade ago. Those include open sourcing the company’s homegrown POWER microprocessor architecture (via the OpenPOWER Foundation) and actively delivering Linux as an operating environment for Power Systems.

The pressure is coming at Nutanix from numerous directions. The company has done particularly well in its hyperconverged focus markets. In fact, it has established a leadership position in that is analogous to the success VMware achieved in its early days of delivering Intel x86-based virtualization solutions. Nutanix has succeeded, as did VMware, by agnostically supporting server hardware and software vendors.

But three of the largest vendors that Nutanix’s hyperconverged software stack supports—HPE, Cisco and Dell—have in-house solutions that compete directly with Nutanix. In addition, HPE and Cisco have moved to aggressively promote their in-house offerings over Nutanix.

The former’s February acquisition of SimpliVity is an obvious slap but company executives forcibly rebuffed Nutanix’s recent announcement that its Enterprise Cloud Platform software will run on HPE’s Proliant servers. Nutanix supports Cisco’s UCS B- and C-series servers, as well, but Cisco launched its own HyperFlex hyperconverged solutions in March after reportedly removing Nutanix from its partner program last August.

Dell’s situation is more complex. The company is one of Nutanix’s OEM partners (along with Lenovo) and offers its XC Series appliances with Nutanix software. However, Dell’s VMware-based VxRail appliances, VxRack offerings (SDDC, FLEX and Neutrino) and Scale IO Ready Nodes solutions aim at the same markets as Nutanix, thus posing potential, if not genuine, threats.

In other words, it is strategically wise for both IBM and Nutanix to look for other commercial opportunities and relationships.

Practical partnering

How about the practical side of the new initiative? That remains to be seen but shouldn’t result in major problems since it focuses on system technology issues and platform integration processes familiar to both companies. IBM, in particular, employs notably large and strong teams of developers who will play key roles in the integration effort.

Just as importantly, both IBM and Nutanix are strong supporters of open standards and make significant contributions to numerous open source initiatives. Meaning that the companies have more in common than many might initially assume. Another similarity is the pair’s focus on engaging enterprise customers, supporting their key mission-critical applications and enabling next-gen cognitive and cloud-native workloads.

Those points constitute true religion for IBM, but it seems likely that Nutanix will easily earn a solo spot in the choir.

Final analysis

In short, the new hyperconverged solutions initiative between IBM and Nutanix seems likely to deliver positive results for the companies. The alliance appears strongly grounded in strategic and practical issues, and also leverages both companies’ innovative assets and experience. Overall, IBM and Nutanix’s effort should deliver substantial benefits to the pair’s individual and common customers.

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