Seeing and Shaping the Future of Hybrid Cloud

Nutanix CTO Rajiv Mirani describes how the advent of cloud computing turned his passion for coding into a pursuit of breaking down technology barriers.

By Joyce Riha Linik

By Joyce Riha Linik January 21, 2021

When Rajiv Mirani was a young teen in India learning how to program video games on his first PC, a shiny black Sinclair ZX Spectrum with its trademark rainbow stripe, he never dreamed he would one day be a top exec at a major Silicon Valley company. Still, through life’s twists and turns, he brought both worlds together.

Maybe it was his father’s career in India’s burgeoning computer industry during those formative years in the 1980s or all of those engineering and computer science conversations at the dinner table that made it clear to Mirani: he was bitten by the computer bug and it was indeed infectious.

Having access to computers at a young age was life-altering.

“It sounds odd now, but back then in India, to be programming at age 14 was very unusual,” said Mirani. “I was always interested in computers, so that, for me, was a very early realization that I wanted to be in tech.”

Turns out Mirani was well-suited for it. He has 27 U.S. patents for enterprise technologies under his belt. Today, he is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Nutanix, where he leads product strategy and development for the company's hybrid cloud platform. Nutanix has evolved from a pioneer of HCI to a leader in hybrid cloud.

“Cloud computing is here to stay,” he said. “It’s growing by leaps and bounds. Anybody who’s starting a business today would be foolhardy not to start building it with a cloud-first architecture.”

That means turning company data centers into private clouds using virtualization and hyperconverged infrastructure. It also means leveraging public cloud services. Getting those private and public clouds to work together is tremendously challenging, but he has embraced it as his life’s work.

“Most people today just treat their public and private cloud applications as two distinct sets,” he said. “There’s no interoperation at all between them, so they’re not even beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible.”


Reinventing IT for Hybrid and Multicloud Future

He is developing software and services that allow IT departments to run hybrid cloud operations, where applications and data can move seamlessly between on-premises and public cloud data centers. Mirani is motivated by the enormous technical challenges as much as the change these technologies will bring to the world.

Truly hybrid cloud experiences will allow businesses to do more with less, save time, empower employees and optimize business output, he said.

The Road to Cloud Computing

When Nutanix co-founder Dheeraj Pandey asked him to join the HCI-pioneering company, Mirani already had a wealth of experience. He’d earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from the Indian Institute of Technology and his doctorate from Yale, and even worked a stint as a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard (HP) before getting caught up in the dot-com boom of the 90s.

As Mirani explained it, he witnessed a steady stream of the brightest engineers leaving HP to launch start-ups, which eventually spurred him to follow suit.

“At some point, I asked: What am I doing here?’” said Mirani. “So I got together with some friends and we started a company.”

The company, Teros, was likely one the first application firewall vendors, according to Mirani.

“In spite of having protections on the network side, application vulnerabilities still meant that Web apps could be hacked,” he said.

That experience was a time of tremendous growth, as Mirani went from being a software engineer to essentially being the chief architect who also led the engineering team that built the product.

Over those five years, the group managed to grow the technology and the company into an attractive acquisition target. Teros was acquired by Citrix in 2005, and Mirani went on to head engineering for another Citrix acquisition, NetScaler.

Under Mirani’s leadership, NetScaler evolved from a single-threaded system working with a single processor to a parallel system capable of running on a multicore, multiprocessor system. It helped companies remain innovative during a major architecture shift in the tech industry.

“I’m so proud of the fact that that architecture is still in use today, more than 15 years later and still scales very, very well,” said Mirani.

It was during his years at Citrix that Mirani began to see the rise of cloud computing. By 2005, he said, he observed that the hyperscalers were building things at a different scale than anyone else, and by 2008, he saw the first signs of utility computing.

Given that the concept of cloud computing could be viewed as an existential threat to Citrix, Mirani began experimenting with cloud architecture himself, building a cloud version of the NetScaler software.

“The idea,” said Mirani, “was to take the NetScaler software and run it on Amazon or Azure instead of on our own appliances.”

So when Pandey approached Mirani about joining the Nutanix team, Mirani immediately realized his skills of designing applications for on-premises data centers and multiple clouds would help Nutanix shape the future of hybrid cloud.

Building the Hybrid Cloud                 

While more and more companies are turning to cloud computing today, the technology has not yet realized its potential.

“The term ‘hybrid cloud’ is still very loose in the sense that people run one set of applications in one place, a completely different set in another place, and say that they’re doing hybrid cloud,” said Mirani. “What they’re actually doing is multiple clouds.”

According to Mirani, the promise that businesses can move applications back and forth between the public and private cloud hasn’t really worked.

“We have seen this when people try to lift and shift to the public cloud. It takes ages for them – years of professional services to make that happen. The applications don’t really talk to each other; they’re sort of islands of their own.”

Further, the teams managing the public and private cloud applications are two different teams with completely different skill sets.

“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Mirani said. “To me, a true hybrid cloud is when you can have applications running, where you have a choice of where you want to run the same application, where you can move applications back and forth, and the management experience is the same.”

“It’s where potentially even parts of an application are running on a private data center and other parts are running on the public cloud, and they seamlessly can talk to each other without a lot of heavy lifting in terms of network setups. Really treating public and private cloud as part of the same fabric as opposed to two different islands. That, to me, is true hybrid cloud.”


Smoothing the Pathway to Hybrid and Multicloud

According to Mirani, the industry is not there yet. But the 2020 release of Nutanix Clusters is taking the world one step closer.

Nutanix Clusters dramatically reduces the operational complexity of migrating, extending or bursting applications and data between private and public clouds, all controlled with a single management plane. It allows businesses to extend their Nutanix-powered IT environment to public clouds like AWS.

“It is challenging in terms of making it seamless,” Mirani said. “But the whole point is that we should make it seamless for our customers.”

Leading through Growth and Crisis

When Mirani joined Nutanix in 2013, the company had 200 employees, including 65 engineers. Since then, the company has grown by leaps and bounds.

To manage and inspire his team, Mirani remains straightforward and honest.

“Just tell people what you are thinking,” he said, describing his management style. “There is no substitute for just being yourself.”

Genuine honesty and the ability to embrace change are critical, especially through a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Being adaptable is the most important part,” Mirani said. “If there’s one thing the pandemic has shown us, it is that we have to be able to change at any given time.”

Mirani pointed to companies, like restaurants, that have had to rapidly shift an online presence into an online business in order to survive, as well as employees sent to work from home.  

“Our teams have been able to adapt well to working from home, and we haven’t lost productivity,” he said. 

Without brainstorming sessions and unstructured time where employees chat informally and throw ideas around, Mirani wonders if they will see the same level of bottoms-up innovation and invention as in the past.

As a result, he’s made an effort to connect with other managers and employees both formally and informally, holding structured meetings, as well as virtual happy hour get-togethers.

Additionally, Mirani has asked managers to connect one-on-one with each employee, looking not just for status updates, but checking in on the well-being of each person.

“While the vast majority like working from home,” he said,” there’s always a few for whom it doesn’t work as well.”

His examples include workers who may need to work different hours during Covid, as they have kids at home and no daycare right now or people-oriented workers who simply prefer the social setting of the work office. He himself identifies with the latter.

“Flexibility is key,” he said, referencing both working conditions during this trying time, as well as the technologies people rely on to do business.

“We need technologies that give us the most optionality in terms of adapting to a changing environment,” he said. “That’s why having this option of moving workloads back and forth, and not getting locked into one vendor or one set of technologies is extremely important.”

Mirani exemplifies flexibility in his personal life, as well, as some of his favorite pastimes simply aren’t possible in the middle of a pandemic.

While Mirani and his wife, Kiran Makhijani, enjoy traveling and hiking in exotic locales – for instance, they have hiked Peru’s Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, trekked from Kathmandu to the Everest Base Camp in Nepal, and visited national parks in Chile and Argentina. But until the pandemic passes, their adventures remain close to home.

Joyce Riha Linik is a contributing writer. Find her on Twitter @JoyceRihaLinik.

© 2021 Nutanix, Inc. All rights reserved. For additional legal information, please go here.