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Nutanix Karbon upgrade focuses on non-Kubernetes experts

Nutanix aims Karbon at 'mere mortals' who want to run Kubernetes in on-premises data centers, but it faces plenty of competitors preparing for containers that need persistent storage.

Nutanix has upgraded its Karbon Kubernetes distribution with the goal of making it easier for IT generalists to deploy and manage containers on its hyper-converged infrastructure systems.

Nutanix Karbon first launched in April 2019, part of a trend of storage systems supporting containers in anticipation that they will soon be used for production and require persistent storage. This includes even virtualized systems, such as HCI.

Christian Perry, infrastructure research manager at 451 Research, said his firm's research finds enterprise customers often run containers with VMs. While this practice may not be great for performance, it isolates application workloads for better security than running them on containers alone.

"Like any HCI vendor, Nutanix has no choice but to provide some sort of container or Kubernetes support in their platform," Perry said.

Nutanix's goal for Karbon is to enable deployment Kubernetes clusters for containerized-based applications in on-prem data centers. Nutanix Karbon 1.0 used open APIs and a Container Storage Interface driver to integrate with Nutanix Volumes and Nutanix Files storage to provision persistent storage for containerized applications.

Nutanix Karbon 2.0: Quick upgrades, air gaps support

Nutanix Karbon 2.0 launched today, including greater integration with the Nutanix Prism Central UI. That enables administrators to quickly enable Karbon access to users through Prism. Nutanix also made it easier to upgrade the Kubernetes version running on their cluster. An available patch or upgrade will show up in the Nutanix Karbon interface, and customers can click on the button to schedule the upgrade.

Nutanix also added support for air-gapped systems in Karbon 2.0. That enables customers to deploy Kubernetes clusters without being connected to the internet. They can download a secure bundle with all the containers they need for a Kubernetes cluster from the Nutanix Support Portal and upload it to an air-gapped, unconnected HCI system.

Greg Muscarella, Nutanix vice president of product for its Cloud Native portfolio, said: "Our differentiator is we're really focusing on making this simple to do. We want to make it simple to get a production cluster running and maintained for mere mortals, not just your Kubernetes super-experts."

"You can be up and running with a production-ready Kubernetes cluster in five minutes, as opposed to downloading open source software and figuring out how to deploy it over multiple machines. We like to say we make Kubernetes almost invisible so that developers and IT organizations can focus on writing their applications and running their applications and less on the stack underneath it," he added.

But, while Nutanix uses the term cloud-native in its descriptions of Karbon, it does not run in a public cloud. Unlike VMware Cloud on AWS and other compute stacks that run in public clouds, Karbon is designed for private data center clouds. However, Muscarella said any application built on Karbon will run on AWS’s Kubernetes Service or other Kubernetes distributions, such as OpenShift or Rancher.

Nutanix Xi Clusters, still in preview, runs AHV and the entire Nutanix operating system on AWS. That could get Karbon into the public cloud.

Can Nutanix Karbon boost AHV adoption?

Nutanix Karbon runs on the Nutanix AHV hypervisor, which is free to Nutanix customers. Karbon does not require a license. While most Nutanix customers still use VMware hypervisors, Nutanix claims close to half of its new deployments include AHV.

Having their own hypervisor and their own platform could allow Nutanix to optimize the performance of Kubernetes and definitely optimize the integration.
Christian PerryInfrastructure research manager, 451 Research

Perry said, as Nutanix beefs up Karbon, it should drive greater AHV adoption.

"This kind of support will increase adoption of AHV," Perry said. "Having their own hypervisor and their own platform could allow Nutanix to optimize the performance of Kubernetes and definitely optimize the integration. But there's no reason VMware can't do the same."

Nutanix is far from the only vendor supporting Kubernetes. Its major HCI software rival, VMware, has made it a priority with its Project Pacific and Tanzu. NetApp Kubernetes Service supports NetApp HCI, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise has HPE Container Platform. Red Hat created KubeVirt as a way for OpenShift users to run VMs along containers.

"And it's not a slam-dunk that people will use HCI to support containers," Perry said. "Composable infrastructure also poses a threat to HCI because you can run bare metal on composable and then run containers in their natural state, although you won't have VM-level isolation doing it that way."

Perry said Nutanix's simplicity strategy could pay off, though.

"There's a lot of complexity for customers who want to deploy Kubernetes," he said. "There's complexity in the setup and the management. If Nutanix can simplify that whole process, especially for customers investing in DevOps, then it's kind of a no-brainer."

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