Nutanix vs. VMware - Hyperconverged Architecture Comparison
To understand the differences between Nutanix and VMware, we must first explore the origins of both organizations. Founded in 1998, VMware has been a long-standing organization in the world of software. Throughout the years, it has delivered cloud computing and virtualization software and services. And in 1999, they became one of the first organizations to introduce virtualization technology to the x86 computing platform.
In May 1999, VMware launched its first-ever product: Workstation (now offered as Workstation Pro). From there, the organization entered the server market in 2001 with the hosted server, VMware GSK, and the hostless server, VMware ESK.
The most notable products in VMware’s product library are its hypervisors. Because it became well-known for its first type-2 hypervisor, GSX, that product has now branched out into two hypervisor product lines: Type 1 hardware-running hypervisors and type 2 hosted hypervisors.
In 2008, VMware underwent a leadership shift, replacing their existing CEO and losing the company’s co-founder and chief scientist that same year.
Around that same time, the idea of Nutanix was starting to form, with the official launch occurring in 2009. In those early years, the vision for Nutanix was to invent a better way to build and manage datacenters. And within the first year, Nutanix did invent a new market for hyperconverged infrastructructure (HCI), thanks to Nutanix Acropolis and Prism. With the advent of that new category, many businesses followed suit with their own HCI solution—VMware included.
Throughout its time in the market, Nutanix has achieved many victories. In 2018, SAP HANA was certified to run in production on AHV, Nutanix’s hypervisor. For 5 years running, Nutanix has maintained a 90+ Net Promoter Score (NPS). And with its feet in over 160 countries worldwide, it has grown up from its “start up” status.
And while both organizations do offer their own HCI solutions, each with the expressed goal to simplify datacenter operations, deliver automation, and more, inevitably, crucial differences between the two cannot be overlooked.
While the architectural differences are important to explore, both companies’ customer-facing skills should be briefly discussed, too. According to the Net Promoter Score, a measurement of customer loyalty and willingness to return to and recommend a company, both companies receive good-to-great scores. VMware’s score of 45 ranks close to the industry average of 56, whereas Nutanix’s score of 92 is remarkably higher than both the average and other organizations in the industry.
First up, the Nutanix Bible visually outlines the legacy-to-hyperconvergence infrastructure transition. To optimize the complex system of a typical 3-tiered infrastructure stack, Nutanix HCI:
- Virtualizes the controllers and moves them to the host position
- Provides software-wide core services and logic
- Distributes data across all nodes in the system
- Moves the storage local to the compute position
On the other hand, the VMware architecture includes an intricate system of multiple products and components, including:
- VMware ESX Server
- VMware Virtual Machine File System (VMFS)
- VMware Virtual Symmetric Multi-Processing (SMP)
- VirtualCenter Management Server
- Virtual Infrastructure Client (VI Client)
- Virtual Infrastructure Web Access
- VMware VMotion™
- VMware High Availability (HA)
- VMware Distributed Resource Scheduler (DRS)
- VMware Consolidated Backup
- VMware Infrastructure SDK
To better visualize the differences between the two vendors’ HCI solutions, the chart below details the major components and benefits of an HCI platform, and how the two compare.
|Hardware- and hypervisor-agnostic||X||✓|
|Single data store||✓||✓|
|Free from additional licensing||X||✓|
|Distributed fault tolerance||✓||✓|
|Detailed online documentation||X||✓|
|Test drive available||✓||✓|
|Improved platform performance||✓||✓|
Despite obvious similarities, one of the biggest differentiators that compels prospective customers to select one over the other lies in the vendors’ licensing and lock-in differences. Because Nutanix is fully software-defined and operates on a hardware- and hypervisor-agnostic model, customers aren’t charged a separate virtualization fee.
License-free virtualization emerged for the simple reason that many businesses nowadays no longer consider virtualization an optional component of their infrastructure. It has become a crucial, non-negotiable feature. Even so, many vendors, VMware included, offer virtualization as an expensive add-on. Because many businesses can’t operate without virtualization, they choose to pay that licensing and management fee.
Customers looking to invest in a hyperconverged solution are also likely to consult analyst reports on the HCI space and the primary vendors in the market. The Gartner Magic Quadrant for HCI is an industry staple for evaluating the strengths and cautions for 14 of the most recognizable HCI organizations.
According to Gartner, VMware and Nutanix both rank in the “leaders” quadrant, with Nutanix inching out VMware for the past few years. This year, both rank just pixels apart. Below is the most recent figure from Gartner’s report from November 2019.
The Forrester Wave, a respected industry analyst, similarly positions both Nutanix and VMware in the dark blue “leaders” category on their chart, citing the following reason as why Nutanix pushes ahead between the two:
“Nutanix’s simplified management and non-disruptive capacity expansion stand out. It switched from solely offering an appliance to a solution with a software-only stack for certified hardware platforms, a strategy that has delivered results.”
As VMware is well-known for its hypervisors, it’s imperative to understand how its main solution, ESXi, compares to Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV). To begin with the older of the two, ESXi is a type-1 hypervisor (a “bare-metal” hypervisor), meaning it runs directly on hardware instead of an operating system (OS).
In addition to ESXi, VMware offers other hypervisors, such as vSphere, with fewer features. VMware ESXi supports many critical features, like shaping traffic, creating role-based security access, logging and auditing tasks, and much more. Plus, ESXi can configure 128 CPUs and 120 devices.
ESXi does have some attractive benefits VMware customers will enjoy. First of all, thanks to its small footprint of 150 MB, businesses will enjoy being able to quickly and easily install ESXi. This smaller size and built-in security management also make ESXi a more secure option.
However, to maintain its smaller size, ESXi offers fewer configuration options. And for those who haven’t used a virtualization product before, ESXi will be a learning process. Another more deterring drawback of ESXi is that the overhead created with additional CPU work and OS might cause key applications to slow down.
On the other side of the coin is Nutanix Acropolis, which includes its own built-in hypervisor, AHV. Launched in 2015, AHV is based on Linux KVM, though Nutanix also supports VMware and Hyper-V. Acropolis customers can use AHV on its own or with another hypervisor thanks to the flexibility of Acropolis Application Mobility Fabric (AMF), which lets you move virtual machine (VM) workloads between hypervisors.
One of the main appeals of Acropolis and AHV is the lack of licensing fees. Acropolis comes embedded into the Nutanix hyperconverged platform, freeing customers from the costly add-on fees associated with other hypervisor vendors.
Ultimately, the differences can be summed up like so: ESXi is for customers that view virtualization as a product, whereas AHV is for customers that focus on application requirements and see infrastructure and virtualization as invisible.