This content is part of the Essential Guide: The rise of hyper-converged architecture for storage

Nutanix Acropolis hypervisor aimed at rival VMware

Nutanix adds Acropolis, a native hypervisor that can work alongside of or replace VMware and Microsoft hypervisors in a hyper-converged box.

A little more than a year ago, hypervisor titan VMware launched its hyper-converged storage software. Now, hyper-converged...

pioneer Nutanix is getting into the hypervisor game.

Nutanix today rolled out a new flagship hyper-converged product called Acropolis at its .NEXT user conference in Miami. Nutanix Acropolis includes a native hypervisor -- also called Acropolis -- based on open source Linux KVM and tuned to work specifically with Nutanix technology. Nutanix continues to support VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisors, and will allow customers to move workloads across different hypervisors.

Acropolis and the Nutanix Prism management framework make up the vendor's Xtreme Computing Platform. Nutanix has not changed the underlying hardware of its appliances for this release.

Greg Smith, Nutanix senior director of product marketing, said the vendor added security and reliability features to Acropolis to make it a better fit for enterprise loads. Nutanix began selling its hyper-converged platform in 2011, packaging storage, compute and built-in hypervisors in one chassis. It started out supporting only VMware's hypervisor, but added support for KVM in 2013 and Hyper-V in 2014.

Smith said Nutanix will not add licensing fees for the Acropolis hypervisor, enabling its clients to avoid paying for VMware or Hyper-V.

By developing its own hypervisor, Nutanix is sending a clear message that it's putting a lot of pressure on VMware licensing.
Arun Tanejaconsulting analyst, Taneja Group

"Customers tell us IT projects are often hindered by the cost of infrastructure," Smith said. "That cost is characterized as a tax imposed upon them by their virtualization solutions. By providing a hypervisor at no cost, we can reduce the virtualization tax for our customers -- both the economic cost and the cost of complexity."

Smith said every version of Acropolis will include the Nutanix hypervisor, but customers can continue to use vSphere or Hyper-V instead of or alongside Acropolis.

Nutanix and VMware had a close partnership during Nutanix's early days, but that relationship has been strained by VMware's entry into the hyper-converged market with its Virtual SAN software. With Acropolis, Nutanix is pushing back at its larger rival by eliminating the need for a third-party hypervisor.

Arun Taneja, consulting analyst at Taneja Group, called Nutanix's decision to build its own hypervisor "extremely gutsy. VMware is not going to like it," he said.

"By developing its own hypervisor, Nutanix is sending a clear message that it's putting a lot of pressure on VMware licensing," Taneja added. "Now we'll see how good of a hypervisor [Acropolis] is."

The other parts of Acropolis are what Nutanix calls a distributed storage fabric and an app mobility fabric. The distributed storage fabric is built on the Nutanix Distributed File System. It enables new features such as erasure coding for data protection and the ability to mount volumes as in-guest iSCSI storage for applications that requirement specific protocols, such as Microsoft Exchange.

Nutanix claims its EC-X erasure coding algorithm reduces the storage required for replication by as much as 75% compared to traditional mirroring. The erasure coding can be applied to Nutanix storage already in use with a software upgrade.

The app mobility capabilities involve placement and migration of virtual machines across hypervisors. Smith said Nutanix has storage container support on its roadmap through the app mobility fabric. The Acropolis hypervisor plugs into the app mobility fabric and the Nutanix Prism management framework.

Nutanix claims it has a 52% share in the burgeoning hyper-converged market that it helped create along with SimpliVity a few years back. Nutanix claimed it had approximately 1,200 customers as of the end of January. Dell is an OEM partner, selling Nutanix software on its hardware branded as the XC Series.

Swiss lottery company bets on Nutanix Acropolis

Switzerland-based lottery company Swisslos has used Acropolis in production since late 2014 to run its online lottery and sports gaming businesses.

Joris Vuffray, network and systems management team leader at Swisslos, said he did a proof of concept on Nutanix about a year ago when he wanted to replace an aging Hewlett-Packard Fibre Channel SAN but held off implementing the hyper-converged system until he could get one with Acropolis. He said the beta version he used has been ready for production since late last year.

"Cost was one advantage [of Acropolis], but it's also integrated into the system," Vuffray said. "You have all of your management in the box, and you can do everything from a command line. It's the easiest KVM management solution I've seen. I don't have to send my team for two weeks of training to use it. With Acropolis, you have only one thing, and everything is integrated."

He said he has two four-node Nutanix Acropolis systems in production in different sites, plus a three-node system he uses for test/dev. Swisslos replicates data between the two production systems for disaster recovery.

Vuffray said Swisslos still uses VMware for its Windows servers, which mainly run its financial systems. "The Windows team is still using VMware, but [the network and systems team] are Linux guys," he said. "They're comfortable with VMware and use it for their workloads, but for us it was clear that we wanted to run KVM and the Acropolis hypervisor. We've seen in the performance of our applications that it was the right way to go."

Nutanix gobbles more of the IT stack

Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said Nutanix is moving to take control over more of the IT stack with Acropolis.

"It's one thing to support the hypervisor," Bowker said. "But when you're providing it yourself, that shows me a change in what they're doing. Now they can say, 'Here's a more inclusive stack.' Also, most instantiations of OpenStack are KVM-based, so this opens the door for potential OpenStack use cases."

Nutanix's Smith said the company has a "five-year vision to make the rest of the infrastructure stack as simple as we've made storage.

"Our native hypervisor is the enabling technology to allow us to provide the app mobility fabric," he said. "It gives us more flexibility to move workloads between environments and migrate those workloads to containers and into the public clouds. We give customers the choice to run applications with any hypervisor, containers or public clouds."

Smith said customers have requested support for Docker containers, and Nutanix will demonstrate Docker support at the conference. He did not give a timeframe for when container support will be added to Acropolis.

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