Start-up releases all-in-one VMware server, storage appliance

Nutanix's Complete Cluster puts VMware servers, storage under one management GUI

Start-up Nutanix today launched its first product, a slim, virtualized server that is clustered together with solid state and hard drive storage that can be managed under a single console view.

Nutanix's Complete Cluster is 2U-high (3.5-in.) VMware-based appliance can grow both CPU and storage capacity dynamically, adjusting it to the performance requirements of an application.

For example, a single 2U enclosure contains four x86 nodes or what Nutanix refers to as blocks. Each block contains 8 Intel Xeon processors with a total of 48 cores and 192GB RAM (upgradable to 768GB) for running virtual machines.

The appliance also includes 1.3TB of PCIe-based flash storage from Fusion-io, 1.2TB of SATA solid state drives (SSDs) from Intel and 20TB of traditional SATA hard drives from Seagate for storing virtual machine data.

Each 2U enclosure can grow by adding blocks, each of which is connected to the last through a 10Gbit/sec Ethernet connection.

Complete Cluster
Nutanix's Complete Cluster appliance

Similar to some larger storage area networks (SANs), the Complete Cluster product is able to dynamically migrate data from higher performance storage, such as Intel's SSDs, to higher capacity storage, such as Seagate's hard drives, depending on the performance matrix surrounding the data.

The Fusion-io PCI-e flash cards are used to store metadata about the data so that it can be indexed and mapped for later retrieval no matter where it resides in the storage system.

Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey said the Complete Cluster is being targeted at midsized companies that prefer products which require fewer IT employees to manage and can grow with their business.

"This is technology that gives them simplicity. It allows them to use the same set of people do more things. For example, a Windows admin can manage an entire data center," Pandey said. "It's also investment protection because it grows with them."

Pandey claims the Complete Cluster appliance can offer savings of between 40% to 60%, and as much as 10 times the performance over traditional virtualized server/SAN architectures because the storage sits directly next to the virtualized server CPU.

The Complete Cluster also offers many of the attributes of a traditional network-attached storage (NAS) or SAN products, such as data snapshots, replication, and RAID protection.

The four nodes
The four nodes of Nutanix's Complete Cluster

The product has a starting price of $115,000. For that, you get one Complete Cluster with four nodes. There is also a starter kit with three nodes that retails for $75,000. A full rack, with 18 complete blocks or 72 nodes, retails for $2.07 million.

While Nutanix's product is similar to clustered NAS systems such as EMC's Isilon or Panasas in that it uses an x86 architecture, it's differentiated in its inclusion of virtualized server CPUs.

Andrew Reichman, an analyst with the market research firm Forrester, said Nutanix's product is more similar to bundled offerings such as EMC and Cisco's vBlock offering, which combines storage from EMC, virtualization from VMware and servers and networking equipment from Cisco. Hewlett-Packard, with its Converged Systems offering, and NetApp, with its Flexpod product, also offer bundled offerings for virtualized environments.

The difference with Nutanix's product is that it's built from the ground up as one combined solution, all based on an x86 architecture.

"In case of EMC, HP or NetApp, they're taking the same storage products they've been selling for years and repackaging for virtual server environments," Reichman said. "I think Nutanix's product is a powerful solution. It's a powerful architecture concept."

Reichman admitted that the price point appears high at first, but he said considering it has a price of about $7 per gigabyte of usable storage, and it can be managed under a single management interface, the Complete Cluster is "reasonably competitively priced."

"It's not eye-poppingly low, but it's decent. And, that's a list price," he said. "If you paid 50% of that as a street price, then we're talking $3.5 per usable gig, then it's a very attractive price."

Like EMC's vBlock or NetApp's Flexpod offering, the selling point of Nutanix's product is not necessarily the acquisition cost as much as it is its combined architecture, which allows fewer people to manage more resources for lower total cost of ownership, Reichman said.

"The complexity of building out a hybrid of multiple vendor's products all meeting on your data center floor is a huge cost," he said. "Especially when you consider the scale-out aspect of this product, it makes it very attractive."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at  @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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