Nutanix, the hottest of the hyper-converged software players, Wednesday announced a strategic partnership with server hardware maker Lenovo to develop, market and sell a new family of appliances that combine storage, server and virtualization.
The deal marks the second major OEM agreement for Nutanix hyper-converged technology. In June 2014, Nutanix forged a partnership with Dell to jointly sell, market, support and service a line of hyper-converged appliances with its software and Dell's PowerEdge server hardware. Dell's Nutanix-powered XC Series of Web-scale Converged Appliances began shipping last November.
Lenovo has other hyper-converged partners. Distributor Arrow Electronics packages software from Nutanix rivals SimpliVity, Pivot3 and StorMagic on Lenovo System x servers and sells the appliances through channel partners.
The Nutanix-Lenovo deal will also integrate the Nutanix software and System x server hardware Lenovo acquired last year from IBM, but Lenovo has a dedicated sales force for the Nutanix hyper-converged appliances. Customers have the option to use Nutanix's built-in Acropolis hypervisor, which is based on open-source KVM technology, or hypervisors from VMware or Microsoft. Scott Hawkins, executive director of worldwide marketing for Lenovo's enterprise business group, said the vendors will also do joint platform development and performance engineering on the appliances. Lenovo expects to ship Nutanix-based products in the first quarter of 2016.
Brian Cox, director of product marketing at Nutanix, said Lenovo plans a range of models and configurations to cover popular workloads, including server virtualization, virtual desktop infrastructure and database-oriented applications, such as ERP and CRM.
"They'll thoroughly know all the ins and outs of the Nutanix software, the Prism management and the full Acropolis framework for all the storage services. They'll become masters at that," Cox said.
Nutanix currently offers two supported hardware options: its own NX-branded appliances (which use Supermicro servers) and Dell's XC Series. Cox said the Lenovo partnership would expand Nutanix's reach to more than 160 countries, with an especially strong presence in Asia.
"In the data center, Lenovo is an ascending company," he said. "They're not one that is just trying to maintain what they have and tree-hugging their old infrastructure. Lenovo doesn't have those conflicts of interest. They are not encumbered by a traditional Fibre Channel SAN external storage array business."
Is Nutanix hyper-converged partnership with Lenovo reaction to Dell-EMC deal?
Dell's pending $67 billion acquisition of EMC has raised questions about the future of its partnership with Nutanix because EMC has products in the hyper-converged space, such as the VSPEX appliance with VMware's EVO:RAIL software. Dell will also acquire VMware in the EMC deal, and VMware has Virtual SAN hyper-converged software that is part of its vSphere application.
Cox denied that the Lenovo partnership came in reaction to the Dell-EMC deal. "We can move fast, but we can't move that fast," Cox said. "This happened well before anybody knew about the Dell-EMC thing because it was the right thing to do."
Colm Keegan, a senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said the Lenovo partnership would be advantageous to Nutanix, whether or not the Dell-EMC deal happened.
"The people at Nutanix are pretty savvy business people," Keegan said. "They understand that what may be working for them today doesn't necessarily translate into future success, so you have to have your bases covered. Even before Dell acquired EMC, there was some conflict, because Dell has storage technologies that would otherwise compete with Nutanix.
"When you look at this relationship with Lenovo," he added, 'there's no apparent conflict in terms of Lenovo having a portfolio of storage technologies that their sales force or business leaders might prefer to sell over Nutanix because of higher margins or whatever. This addresses that potential long-term concern for them. And then if Dell-EMC makes changes, they'll already be positioned with partners like Lenovo."
At the recent Dell World conference in Austin, Texas, Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey joined Dell Storage VP/GM Alan Atkinson during a presentation entitled "Accelerating business through next-generation storage."
After the session, when asked how Nutanix hyper-converged technology would fit into the Dell-EMC picture, Pandey said, "I have a very standard answer for this. At the end of the day, if you think of the Apple ecosystem, there is App Store. There are tons of apps that Apple builds, and there are tons of apps that partners build. And Apple is a healthy ecosystem because all the apps are together in one place.
"Dell is a platform company, and I think Dell will actually create this ecosystem of partners that will compete and cooperate together," Pandey said. "I mean, IT is going from a community of tribal warlords to a community of nations where you'll have overlaps of interest and conflicts of interest, and you've just got to manage it like nations do actually."
Asked whether Dell might offer its own storage software, rather than partnering, the firm's Atkinson said, "We've always said that we reserve the right to put our own IP into this space. Again, if you look at our ecosystem now, it's not just Nutanix. It's Nutanix and VMware and Microsoft and Scality and Nexenta and Cloudera and Red Hat."
In the meantime, Nutanix hyper-converged technology could gain benefits from its partnership with Lenovo that go beyond the advantages of the company's relationship with Dell.
"Obviously, Lenovo's stronger in China than Dell, and there's an IBM heritage that Lenovo brings. Those are unique attributes, in addition to the dedicated sales force," Nutanix's Cox said. He noted that Dell has existing customer relationships, "and there's enough business out there in the hyper-converged [market] that all of this will get very large slices of the pie."
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