Cloud computing works on a different scale. Technically, figuratively and strategically, the cloud computing trade does not follow the same core developmental structure that we have seen played out in the IT industry before the millennium. Founded in 2009, enterprise company Nutanix is a very illustrative case in point; former CEO and co-founder Dheeraj Pandey stepped down from his role in August 2020 after some Covid-19 lockdown reflection and a $750 million investment from Bain Capital Private Equity.
Although Pandey’s departure came as a surprise to many, he clearly had other fish to fry and felt the time was right, especially given the different cadence and heartbeat around which cloud computing generally evolves.
New Nutanix CEO Rajiv Ramaswami took up the reins in December of 2020 and his mission has centralized around continuing the company’s mission to simplify its stack and move away from selling ‘point products’ (single function elements of a cloud stack such as networking, storage, analytics or other) and move towards selling solutions packages.
The invisible cloud CEO
Nutanix wants to make clouds ‘invisible’, a term it uses to explain how its platform is designed to enable customers to use hybrid mult-cloud deployments without the stress of worrying about how their cloud estate looks, operates and functions. All of which is (arguably) a tough call for a CEO who himself had to start off his tenure under Covid-19 lockdown and be comparatively less visible than many.
Now that handshaking is almost permissible again, Ramaswami met press in Europe this week to further clarify how his personal vision for cloud dovetails with the wider Nutanix platform strategy. After what he describes as an ‘interesting’ onboarding experience, Ramaswami talks energetically about his team’s mission to give customers simpler management across mixed-cloud infrastructures.
At the Nutanix board level (and to be honest, across the entire technology industry) there appears to be a realization that the ‘perpetual licensing models’ of yesteryear are not what the market wants. Instead, today, enterprise IT is now increasingly packaged as a subscription-based solution, which perhaps one day soon will also be aligned to more closely defined actual business outcomes (and profitability) at the customer operational level.
Flattening discombobulated topographies
This solutions strategy nestles logically enough with Nutanix’s invisible cloud concept i.e. if the underbelly cloud services a customer needs are composed of a hybrid multi-cloud (and perhaps even poly-cloud granular differentiation) substrate, then customers will be happier if they don’t have to a) navigate across that quite discombobulated cloud topography and b) steer their enterprise by selecting from what was a glut of rather too many cloud product portfolio choices. Ramaswami likes to call it Nutanix’s ‘hallmark simplicity’ which, as a phrase, works well enough for keynotes and meetings, but clearly needs to be able to play out in terms of real world customer implementations as well.
To make all this happen, Nutanix has been ‘aligning’ cloud products into solutions. This is the kind of stuff that Ramaswami grew up on; before his masters and his PhD he gained his electrical engineering qualifications. What it means in the real (okay, virtualized) world of cloud is that a customer would not have to peruse, procure, provision and play with a cloud networking function (for example) because networking now comes included as an (albeit fairly meaty) side disk in the Nutanix solution stack.
Here we can see part of the Nutanix evolutionary DNA openly i.e. back in 2018 we all got excited to see Nutanix bring forward Flow, its first dedicated networking product. With this software defined networking (SDN) part of the Nutanix portfolio now invisibly baked in we also see the more intricate sub-functions of cloud engineering that networking usually works with also now invisibilized – such as application micro-segmentation and mapping, previously achieved via Nutanix’s Netsil product, which, to be clear, had not existed as a standalone product for some time now anyway as it already existed as part of Flow. The point is, there is a wider ‘solutioni-zing’ and packaging process going on in Nutanix, which is widely reflective of the major trends in cloud computing today overall.
Ramaswami has called cloud computing an ‘an operating model rather than a destination’ and he says that solving the complexities of running hybrid multi-cloud is very much a part of that model as it manifests itself at the customer level. As we have noted before, this could see customers work towards the ideal where workplace workflows are strategically matched to the cloud workload that they reside upon.
Simplified solutionized subscriptions
Further to this above point, enterprises should be thinking about an immediate future where they match each human (and machine) based workflow workload to the hybrid cloud infrastructure best suited to it, based upon factors including cloud service optimization options, security, performance and cost. This, perhaps, is the next most achievable point of cloud computing nirvana.
But moving and managing heterogeneous cloud environments and moving workloads among them is hard work, so that’s where Nutanix is aiming to score a core validation point for its simplified solutionized subscription-based approach.
In line with all of this work, Ramaswami is continuing to steer Nutanix towards a pronounced partnership play. The firm has been scaling its partnership strategy towards a set of very specific strategic partnerships with companies including HPE, Lenovo, Red Hat and Citrix over the course of the year.
Why the directly highlighted partner strategy? Ramaswami is refreshingly honest on this point and has openly stated that the company knows it is ‘playing in a land of giants’ (Ramaswami’s exact words), which is clearly a reference to the mega-vendors (the above three brands being perfect examples) that Nutanix has realized that it needs to provide full certified support for on its own infrastructure.
The forward mission here centers around the notion that we need to break down the previous datacenter silos that grew up inside the last (which was effectively the first) generation of networking and cloud computing.
Ramaswami says that if we look at how people used to operate, with separate teams to manage compute resources, separate teams to run networking, separate teams for storage and onward into differentiated teams for the ‘new’ world of data analytics and more, there was too many different tools all running on different equipment.
The future for Ramaswami is a place where enterprise IT departments can enjoy the agility and choice afforded by having one team to operate an agile software-defined infrastructure. By giving customers the choice to run their applications on any hardware and on any cloud, Ramaswami insists that Nutanix will achieve higher customer satisfaction ratings.
Looking at how the total technology proposition here breaks down then, let’s see what’s on the table. Nutanix Cloud Infrastructure includes everything needed to build a cloud i.e. functions spanning compute, storage and networking, all delivered as software-defined. Working in unison with this layer is Nutanix Cloud Management, which (and the clue is in the name) is everything needed to operate a cloud i.e. functions spanning monitoring, automation, operations, self-service and governance.
In line with these core offerings the Ramaswami points to Nutanix Unified Storage, which is everything organizations need to manage their unstructured data i.e. so these are functions related to files and objects etc. Then comes Nutanix Database-as-a-Service, which is a software layer designed to offer database services. Completing the core stack is Nutanix End User Computing, which – is kind of like the ‘tangible touchable’ end-point of cloud – delivers the final traditional virtual desktop and application implementations.
Cloud goes hybrid cubed³
The hybrid multi-cloud dream was always seen as the most functional, most secure, most cost-effective and most workable way of using cloud computing after the initial ‘you can not be serious, you mean we’ll put all our IT in an external service?’ birth of cloud. The market-facing technology proposition from Nutanix now is: purchase cloud computing in a hybrid mix defined by subscription, using the most hybrid combination of cloud applications and services across the most hybrid use case surface area possible.
There is no industry term for hybrid-hybrid-hybrid, but if cloud hybrid³get coined, then at least you’ll know why.