After first disrupting the legacy SAN and NAS architecture of the virtualized datacenter, Nutanix is now transforming virtualization itself. Nutanix’s software-defined infrastructure enables a new approach to the stand-alone hypervisor model, already 12+ years old.
The IT Commoditization Cycle
Legacy hypervisors were designed for a world of monolithic non VM-aware storage arrays and switch fabrics and were built to accommodate thousands of combinations of servers, NICs and drivers. They require multipathing policies and complex designs to mitigate issues such as storage congestion and application resource contention while still accommodating both high availability and scalability. Acceptable performance often requires silos such as segregating VDI from server workloads.
Nutanix’s AHV Hypervisor was built from the ground up to provide a much simpler and more scalable hypervisor and associated management platform by leveraging the software intelligence of the hyperconverged architecture. AHV changes the core building block of the virtualized datacenter from hypervisor to application and liberates virtualization from the domain of specialists – making it simple and easily manageable by anyone from DevOps teams to DBAs.
Two things about Xiaomi’s strategy were noteworthy: crowdsourcing and UI simulation. They were very effectively using these as a means to rattle the smartphone race. Real time feedback and weekly software upgrades formed the core of this elegant strategy. Suddenly, the consumer became the center of the innovation sphere. It was about their ideas, their influence, their lives… their phone. It became the community’s phone. Xiaomi merely became the orchestrator of all things the crowd wanted — curate, prioritize, deliver, go back to step 1.
At Nutanix, we’ve learned a lot from Apple’s meaningful design and Google’s passion for automation. From 1-click add-node and upgrades to Foundation and my.nutanix.com portal, we had burned the midnight oil thinking about the end user. But it wasn’t enough. We had to go to them before the beginning of the next design cycle. Large customers would speak up with large purchase orders, but the true consumer of the product — the practitioner, the engineer, the tinkerer, the channel SE — was missing from the spirited discussions on what to prioritize, how to design, why something made no sense, and what brought true delight to their lives. And most importantly, the skeptics, the constant haters were not being embraced fast enough, as we were itching to learn from their experiences just as much. Those who didn’t own a Nutanix appliance were being left behind. We were not learning fast enough. We were not planting saplings fast enough.
It was time we started learning from Xiaomi. It was time for the Nutanix Community Edition (CE).
In the last 2 years, we’ve designed and delivered 20+ node types, including the Dell XC models — all running a single version of the Nutanix software.
Similar as to how WAN acceleration, compression and deduplication evolved from products into features, the hypervisor is now a component of the hyperconverged infrastructure. We may not be too far from the day when Gartner stops producing a Magic Quadrant for virtualization. Virtualization will no longer be a stand-alone product.
Here are my top seven attributes as to why AHV is ushering in the new era of virtualization:
AHV reflects the intersection of web-scale engineering and consumer-grade-design. Every Nutanix node includes Nutanix Prism, the beautifully simple and intuitive management interface.
Prism provides a single pane of glass for managing the entire infrastructure stack whether in a single datacenter or spread throughout datacenters and offices globally. Deploying, cloning and protecting (DR) VMs is done holistically as part of the hyperconverged architecture rather than utilizing disparate products and policies.
Built-in guidance and self-healing remove the burden of constantly tuning the environment. For example, changes to storage policies can be made on the fly without migrating data off and on as you would with traditional RAID volumes. With a few clicks, customers can upgrade their entire virtualization environment regardless of geography, including OS, firmware and hypervisor.
Stand-alone hypervisor management solutions mimic the 3-tier environments for which they were designed by requiring a scale-up architecture. This approach contrasts with the scale-out capability that virtualization natively enables for the Compute Layer. Disparate scale-up management tends to require considerable design effort to eliminate a single point of failure and minimize risk of downtime while still enabling maximum agility.
AHV’s scale-out management plane works exclusively with Nutanix’s scale-out data plane, Nutanix Distributed Storage Fabric (DSF), and aligns the scale-out model across all three domains: Compute, Storage and Virtualization Management. Infrastructure objects such as snapshots and clones, and meta-data such as VM configurations and host configurations are stored in a modern, massively scalable NoSQL database.
The all-inclusive scale-out AHV architecture eliminates the legacy hypervisor tipping point where it becomes necessary to deploy another management server, analytics software package or database. Customers can deploy applications within hours or minutes of receiving Nutanix nodes. They grow their environments by adding more nodes to the cluster; automated self-discovery followed by a click automatically configures the virtualization hosts utilizing the existing policies in place.
Unlike other hypervisors, AHV doesn’t have cluster size limits from a compute or storage perspective. Customers can start with only three nodes and then continue to scale to thousands without the need to create silos of compute or storage.
Conventional hypervisors need to interact with hardware and software products from many manufacturers. Multiple participants creates security vulnerabilities at the boundaries of product intersections.
In contrast, AHV is tuned, tested and hardened exclusively for Nutanix hyperconverged infrastructure. This approach yields a hardened product with a dramatically reduced security area. The security baseline covers the full stack and Nutanix’s full stack analytics capabilities keep the entire platform baseline compliant.
Legacy virtualization solutions may utilize “thick” clients dependent upon a single central management VM and, in many cases, a 3rd party relational database platform that is vulnerable to a single point of failure. AHV virtualization, like the Nutanix hyperconverged data plane, is scale-out, highly available out-of-the-box and self-healing. Since Prism is part of every node, the management capabilities are highly redundant – they continue unabated even in the event of a failed node.
Fewer moving parts means eliminating failures from incompatibility which reduces the risk of downtime. Continuous uptime is further ensured by Nutanix’s non-disruptive, rolling, one-click upgrades.
5. Analytics (Data-Driven Management)
AHV doesn’t require additional software licensing to extract analytics from the environment, and it doesn’t need to load the data into a separate database. Analytics are built into Prism and incorporate not only Virtualization, but also the Storage and Compute – providing visibility across the entire stack.
Nutanix utilizes extensive automation and rich system-wide monitoring for data-driven efficiency combined with REST-based programmatic interfaces for integration with datacenter management tools. AHV feeds all system, audit, intrusion detection, and self-remediation logs to the central log host for real-time situational awareness used in forensic support and root cause analysis.
6. Industry-leading Support for the Whole Virtualization Stack
Nutanix wields support as a competitive advantage. We boast an industry-leading 92+ Net Promoter Score. Our support covers not just AHV, Distributed Storage Fabric and Hardware, but the entire infrastructure stack: Compute, Storage and Virtualization. Nutanix even provides support for business critical applications such as SQL & Exchange.
Nutanix owns the problem regardless of whether the issue is believed to be a 3rd party responsibility or not. Nutanix SREs will arrange and actively participate in multi-way calls between vendors until the customer’s problem is resolved. While Nutanix SREs are highly skilled and experienced, they also can escalate to multiple CCIE, VCDX, NPX and CTPs.
7. Economic Benefits
For most businesses, achieving optimal IT infrastructure is not a goal in and of itself – the purpose of infrastructure is to enable the business. Nutanix invisible infrastructure elevates IT staff away from infrastructure work, enabling them to utilize their talents and creativity to make the business more competitive, efficient and profitable.
As a core component of invisible infrastructure, AHV helps free IT staff to focus on the business rather than on the plumbing. It also reduces legacy hypervisor costs:
Software Licensing Costs –There is no need to license operating systems, 3rd party database products such as Microsoft SQL or Oracle, or management, analytics or disaster recovery software to enable HA management capabilities.
Design/Implementation/Support – Out-of-the-box availability and auto scaling simplifies the AHV environment design and implementation. All support costs are included as part of the overall Nutanix hyperconverged platform.
Ongoing Administration Expense – Fewer moving parts and end-to-end integrated software ensures all virtualization parts work together. One-click fully automated rolling upgrades for AHV, firmware and Nutanix Cluster Check eliminate the requirement to check an interoperability matrix before upgrades.
Business Disruption Costs – Non-disruptive upgrades and all-inclusive software remove numerous points of failure, reducing the need for maintenance and the likelihood of outages. An August 2015 IDC study of 13 Nutanix customers showed that unplanned downtime decreased by 99.7%, and planned downtime decreased by 100%, when customers moved from 3-tier to Nutanix hyperconverged infrastructure.
Hardware Costs – Even small legacy virtualization platforms require a patchwork of tools that necessitate additional resources. As they grow, the number of required resources tends to increase. AHV eliminates the need for dedicated management clusters and the associated compute/storage resources along with rack space, power, cooling and network port costs.
Customer adoption of AHV has been tremendous with organizations such as Swisslosincreasingly migrating to AHV across the organization. AHV is also fostering widespread industry support with eco-system partners large and small such as Microsoft, Citrix, Juniper Networks, F5, SilverPeak, vArmour, VMTurbo, Palo Alto Networks, LiquidWare Labs and many others all supporting AHV.
As compelling as AHV virtualization is today, the architecture promises an equally exciting future. For example, nothing would stop Nutanix from doing things such as using AHV and Prism in a container on bare-metal, yet continue to deliver new features at a very rapid pace.
Thanks to @Josh_Odgers, @sudasrinivasan, @vmmike130, Simon Mijolovic, @cakeis_not_alie, @_praburam, @sudheenair, @IOGuru, @wolfbrthr, @vcdxnz001,
@magander3, @drummonds, @andreleibovici and @MarkBrunstad for invaluable suggestions and edits.