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On June 21, 2016, Nutanix held its second annual .NEXT Conference in Las Vegas, NV. Compared to the first .NEXT conference, in which there were just under 1,000 attendees, at the opening of the first keynote, the attendee count was over 2,500.

The high number of attendees, coupled by the roughly 50 sponsors, are a reflection of the interest and demand that Nutanix has generated around software-defined storage (SDS) and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI).

As for the high number of sponsors, Neuralytix believes that some of the sponsors were eager to participate at .NEXT conference, in order to ride on the coattails of Nutanix’s momentum.

In conversations with customers, Neuralytix research shows that when considering HCI, Nutanix is almost always considered as a contender. This has driven competitors such as EMC and SimpliVity to try and displace Nutanix as the perceived leader in the HCI market.

This year, the theme of the conference was the journey to the “Enterprise Cloud Platform.” Not satisfied with being an HCI vendor, Nutanix openly aspires to becoming the Amazon AWS (EC2) for the on-premise computing needs for the enterprise.

Nutanix recognizes that this journey to the Enterprise Cloud Platform will be a difficult one. But not content as being a leading SDS and HCI player, last year, Nutanix introduced its own hypervisor (the Acropolis hypervisor or AHV) to its core product – challenging VMware at its own game. In particular, AHV eliminates the hypervisor licensing “tax” that many VMware users dislike, especially when compared to Hyper-V and KVM-based hypervisors.

Nutanix used the opening keynote to talk about the new features that are coming in the next release of its software – version 4.7, and its subsequent release named Asterix. Both releases focus on additional capabilities built into Prism, Nutanix’s management software, that increases the number of one-click functions the software can perform. The goal, in Nutanix terms, is to create an “invisible infrastructure.”

In another direct challenge to VMware, not only has Nutanix created its own hypervisor, but it seeks to replace vCenter as the management software of choice. In the announced releases, Prism will be able to manage both AHV virtual machines (VMs), but also ESXi VMs. Prism will also have a one-click hypervisor conversion, enabling users to go from ESXi VMs to AHV VMs and vice versa. In fact, based on Nutanix’s own numbers, 15% of its clusters are now running AHV for enterprise applications.

Nutanix also demonstrated how it intends to stay ahead of the curve by announcing Acropolis Container Services (ACS) that allows for persistent, stateful, and portable storage volumes for containers. In a future release, Nutanix announced that it will have one-click container deployment allowing DevOps to quickly deploy the necessary infrastructure services.

Other announcements include Nutanix support for bare-metal non-virtualized enterprise applications such as Oracle RAC or SAP. Data can be migrated from traditional SANs into the Nutanix SDS, and represented using Acropolis Block Services (ABS). In doing so, traditional mission critical applications can now run on Nutanix.

Finally, Nutanix teased at new features that customers should expect in 2017 – including the ability to manage the network directly from within Prism and a just-in-time capacity planning tool.

Neuralytix’s thoughts

Neuralytix believes that Nutanix has very lofty goals. Based on the announcements on Day 1 of .NEXT, Nutanix is demonstrating that it has a well-defined roadmap on how to reach that goal while maintaining its mantra to make the infrastructure as “invisible” as possible.

That said, being a leader has its benefits and its challenges. It is clear that Nutanix’s competitors have directives to displace Nutanix’s leadership position. This means that in order for Nutanix to remain in the leadership position, it must execute flawlessly.

Nutanix has a portfolio of very impressive clients including T-Mobile and NASDAQ. An investment from these large enterprises reflects a level of confidence in Nutanix, its products and its future.

We believe that Nutanix’s decision to develop its own hypervisor (AHV) is a very smart one. It allows them to integrate and control every element of the software stack. Its decision to continue to limit the number of hardware platforms on which it is sold – either on Nutanix’s own platform or Dell’s or Lenovo’s platforms only, allows Nutanix the opportunity to remain in control of its destiny.

Competitively, by owning the whole software stack, Nutanix has definitely put itself to compete against vendors who use the VMware stack, of which there are many. Luckily for Nutanix, like servers, and to a lesser extent storage, hypervisors have become somewhat of a commoditized component of the software-defined datacenter (SDDC); and discussions with customers suggest that they are open to considering alternative hypervisors.

Finally, and perhaps what is most important is that attendees were very positive about the outlook of Nutanix, and found the .NEXT conference useful. Neuralytix’s long term outlook of Nutanix is equally positive.