Hybrid Cloud and IT-as-a-Service, Forces Behind the HPE and Nutanix Partnership

A Nutanix and HPE partnership reveals a lot about the future of enterprise IT and what happens when companies join forces to better serve customers.

By Alex Gronczewksi

By Alex Gronczewksi March 19, 2020

Much of Silicon Valley’s collective identity is linked to knowing the next big thing before the rest of the world. Engineering breakthroughs, elegant design and masterful marketing all play a part, but increasingly the secret to successful new technologies comes from a keen understanding of customer needs. One of the business world’s oldest adages – the customer is always right – has never been truer or more essential to driving new products and services. It sparked a 2019 HPE and Nutanix partnership that’s giving IT departments around the world a “better together” combination of technologies to harness digital transformation.  

The first fruits of that agreement included HPE GreenLake “as a Service” and HPE ProLiant DX appliances, the first being IT-as-a-service and the other for anyone building enterprise cloud on-premises. Both run Nutanix hyperconverged software that combines compute, storage, virtualization and network functionalities, making it simple and easy for IT to maintain and scale when needed.

“Our customers tell us that it’s their applications that matter most,” said Dheeraj Pandey, co-founder and CEO of Nutanix, when the partnership was announced in April. 

“Our partnership with HPE will provide Nutanix customers with another choice to make their infrastructure invisible so they can focus on business-critical apps, not the underlying technology.”

GreenLake gives IT departments on-demand, on-premises infrastructure that’s billed as it is used. There is no upfront purchase, just a public cloud-like billing model and the option to have HPE PointNext services manage operations. It’s designed for IT departments that want new service delivery models, according to Modernizing IT with Nutanix Enterprise Cloud and HPE GreenLake, a Nutanix-commissioned report by ESG Senior Analyst Mike Leone and Research Analyst Leah Matuson.

“The role of IT must become more strategic to the business,” the report states. “By embracing an as-a-service model, they set themselves up for success.”

The report describes how the HPE-Nutanix partnership gives customers flexibility and reliability they need on their hybrid cloud journeys.

“Customer-centricity will continue to be a driving force behind the partnership for years to come.”

ProLiant DX appliances are for anyone interested in or already running Nutanix software on HPE systems and want to build out their on-premises enterprise cloud systems, as well as acquire it through a traditional capital budget expenditure. 

Prior to the agreement, HPE accounted for nearly 18% of the server computer market, making it the second most popular provider. Realizing many customers were using Nutanix software to manage various aspects of their data systems, it became clear that a partnership could lead to better customer service, which is a critical differentiator in the ultra-competitive world of enterprise computing, according to Greg Smith, vice president of product marketing for Nutanix.

“Customers want to run their choice of hyperconverged infrastructure software on their choice of hardware,” said Smith. 

“HPE is a leading server vendor. Nutanix is a leading HCI (hyperconverged infrastructure) software provider. Customers said, ‘I want to run Nutanix on HPE. Can you make it easy for me?’” 

Making It Easy for Customers Isn’t Always Easy 

Breakthroughs like this can be years in the making, but timing is everything, and sometimes they require a meeting of the minds at a local coffee shop. Back-of-the-napkin plans can generate impact quickly, when everything clicks.

The partnership came at the right time for existing Nutanix and HPE customers like the San Francisco District Attorney’s (SFDA) office, which had some outdated IT infrastructure.

“We needed to replace the hardware, so it was a perfect match in time,” said CIO of the SFDA’s office Harold Brown, who’s leading a large office relocation effort.

“We were comfortable with the HPE hardware. It was a proven and solid solution historically, so we just continued to move forward with that. Finding out that Nutanix was compatible was the icing on the cake.”

It took time for the relationship to gel. But one day it happened, at a South Bay Area Starbucks. Pandey and Vishal Lall, the chief strategy officer for HPE, figured out how to make an HPE-Nutanix partnership work. 

Ideas from that coffee shop meeting quickly blossomed on a global scale.

Prasad Athawale, senior director of business development for Nutanix, planned that industry shifting meetup at Starbucks. He tried for years to make it happen. Despite several top level disagreements, he knew it was just a matter of time since there was abundant demand in the market.

“I’m a firm believer that what might not work today might work six months later,” said Athawale. 

The meeting was one of mutual respect, he said. Nutanix had established itself as the leader in the HCI market since it’s IPO in 2016 and the company was shifting away from hardware to focus on software. 

“That opened an opportunity for more meaningful cooperation with HPE,” Athawale said. 

He said HPE was seeing increasing competition from DellEMC and welcomed the opportunity to partner with a fast growth enterprise software partner. 

“The meeting was full of intense brainstorming, back-of-the-napkin architecture designs, discussions of what and why previous attempts didn’t work, what was different this time around etc.,” Athawale said.  

Ninety minutes into that meeting, they had the core idea of a two solution approach: a new DX appliance and the GreenLake service. 

“It was an honest, humble conversation,” he said. “Both sides wanted to innovate, and that became the spirit of the partnership. That initial conversation set the stage on how much both parties would lean in to make this a reality.”

Two years before the partnership, customers turned to the channel to buy HPE systems running Nutanix, but they wanted the official blessing of HPE support, according to Brian Cox, director of product marketing at Nutanix. 

Before joining Nutanix, Cox spent two decades working at HP.  He knew the company and people there well. He describes the two years prior to the partnership as time Nutanix was showing love but HPE was looking the other way for competitive reasons.

Cox remembers hosting an industry party featuring basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar near the HPE Discover user conference and inviting customers and channel partners to attend.

“At the party, I saw this guy from HPE who turned out to be an old friend of mine,” said Cox. “In our hearts we knew that the two companies should come together at some point.”

PHOTO CAPTIO Brian Cox, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Don Gentile together at an event called Nutanix loves HPE, prior to the 2019 partnership.

Customer Needs Drive Innovation

Both companies are part of a revolution in IT, where infrastructure is getting easier to install, quicker to scale and available on-premises or as a service and with predictable billing.

Offering choices and better billing options is core to how Nutanix operates. After pioneering hyperconverged infrastructure, the company recently focused on selling software and moved to a subscription model, a necessary move for companies staking their future on hybrid cloud. 

“We are helping our Fortune Global 100 customers transform from ownership of technology to access to technology via the subscription consumption model,” said Pandey.

“Given how rapidly technology is changing and companies are introducing new products, enterprise customers are waking up to the idea of subscription to a product portfolio being ‘streamed’ to them in a very similar way,” Pandey said. 

He said Nutanix subscriptions will help our customers move investments fluidly between private and public clouds as their business needs dictate.

“The partnership involves more than just putting Nutanix software on HPE hardware,” said Cox. “Two companies are making sure customers get the best of both company’s skill sets.” 

It’s about providing customers and partners a hybrid IT experience, Erik Vogel, global vice president of customer experience for HPE GreenLake, in an interview with CRN. Greenlake allows companies to import public cloud service bills and do comparisons.  

“They now have the ability to look across all of their hybrid environments and do what if scenarios,” said Vogel.

As forward-thinking enterprises move rapidly to hybrid cloud models, they require the scalability offered by public cloud combined with the control, compliance, security and economics provided by private clouds, according to Pandey. 

“Our goal is to make the underlying cloud infrastructure invisible so leaders can focus on what matters most to their businesses: their applications,” said Pandey. 

“By partnering with HPE, we’re paving pathways for more enterprises to easily find the right hybrid cloud solution and focus on what moves the needle to scale.”

Alex Gronczewksi is a contributing writer. 

Ken Kaplan contributed to this story. He is Editor in Chief for The Forecast by Nutanix. Find him on Twitter @kenekaplan.

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