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Nutanix .NEXT 2018: 'Sherlock' targets IoT data

Nutanix .NEXT 2017 focused on the hyper-converged infrastructure pioneer’s move to the public cloud with Xi Cloud Services. Nutanix .NEXT 2018 last week was a showcase for Nutanix Beam, the vendor’s software-defined networking service. Those launches went in directions most expected the vendor to eventually take hyper-convergence.

Nutanix .NEXT 2019 will likely have an edge computing launch, although it’s not clear that will be the main focus. But the HCI vendor last week unveiled Project Sherlock at Nutanix .NEXT 2018. A Nutanix executive described Sherlock as an enterprise cloud software stack to harness hundreds of zettabytes of data that will be captured by Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Satyam Vaghani, Nutanix’s VP of IoT and AI, demonstrated Sherlock during one of the .NEXT keynotes. He showed how the technology could allow a retail store to use it to identify customers and automate check out in stores using technologies such as facial recognition. The software could tie into the store’s sensors, cameras, kiosks and rack servers at the edge and connect to the cloud. The demo included a SaaS console to support “planet scale” IoT infrastructure.

“Enterprise IoT is very complicated because of the variety of devices involved,” Vaghani said. “It’s planet scale, not data center scale. Platforms for IoT operations are very different than platforms we are used to running in the data center. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way for Nutanix to provide a managed service that can be used to manage all of this planet scale infrastructure, all from a central place?”

Vaghani said the technology could allow users to walk out of a story without stopping at a checkout counter to complete a purchase, board an airplane without a boarding pass or wear an ID badge at work. “These are the headliner use cases of IoT, the biggest use case in the edge cloud,” he said.

Nutanix chief product and development officer Sunil Potti said he expects “more concrete announcements” for Sherlock at .NEXT 2019. “Now it’s in what we call the Series A financing mode,” he said.

Considering Xi still isn’t ready for wide-scale consumption a year after its launch, there is a good chance Sherlock won’t make it into next year’s use conference. Like Xi, Sherlock requires a significant amount of engineering work.

“Just like we couldn’t take our current OS and put it in Xi, we had to re-do some core components” for Sherlock, Potti said. “When we extend our stack to the edge, we can’t take our current storage stack. The amount of real time processing needed, the latency requirements, the footprint requirements … everything is different.”

Government IT wrestles with cloud costs, management

Nutanix Beam, a SaaS offering for managing cloud costs, resonated with users at Nutanix .NEXT 2018 who need to get a handle on public cloud costs. Cloud sprawl was a topic during a breakout session with admins from government agencies, a vertical that often has mandates to use public clouds.

Beam provides a dashboard showing all of an organization’s cloud services and monthly pricing. Admins can manage their cloud resources from the dashboard, and Beam recommends cost saving changes.

David Gokey, chief engineer for Mission Systems at NORAD-U.S. Northern Command (USNORCOM), said he saw Beam for the first time at the show and it fit the bill for what he’s been looking for.

“I need a cloud economist,” he said of the task of keeping track of the costs of all his agency’s cloud services. “I need somebody 100 percent dedicated to look at all the products out there and know how we can control that. It has to be automated.”

Derek Williams, director of data center operations for the state of Louisiana, said his group operates as a service provider for state agencies. That requires a great deal of cost control.

“Parking four petabytes of data in the cloud is not cheap,” he said. “The way we handle it is to establish a service catalog per bid. We own the back end on the IT side, then we look at the business case and determine where that infrastructure should live. The business shouldn’t really care where that server is.  They have a business case, not an IT case. We figure out what’s cost effective on the back end. People used to say ‘I’ve got this much money has to be allocated for this project.’ Now it’s turned around for grants. You’re no longer getting money to buy hardware, this is a service. You have to change the way you think now. You say I have this much money for someone to provide a hosting service. We put a rate on that based on the internal IT cost.”

Using multiple clouds will complicate things more. Gorey and Williams said they find the public clouds do different things well, making it necessary to use more than one.

Gorey said Microsoft Azure is way ahead of market leader AWS for high performance computing, and Google has the best AI capabilities. “By 2030, AI and machine learning will be the largest piece of our workload,” he said. “We’re going to need a multi-cloud strategy. We want to give everybody options. People should have choices between where they want to push those workloads.”

Williams said the Louisiana IT team found AWS ran its workloads well and “we saw no reason to go and learn a different stack for every cloud.” But that is changing with advances such as Kubernetes that makes it easier to move workloads.

“If we can get it to where we can move workloads without having to care about where it goes, and security rules follow and we can get it all locked down, that will be the turning point for us where we don’t care what cloud it’s in,”Williams said. “But we haven’t hit that state yet.”

Dell EMC upgrades XC Nutanix-based HCI

Dell chose Nutanix .NEXT 2018 rather than Dell Technologies World the previous week to roll out its new Dell EMC XC appliance based on Nutanix software. Like the Dell EMC VxRail HCI platform that uses VMware vSAN software, XC runs on Dell PowerEdge servers.

The Dell EMC XC940-24 is the first XC quad-core appliance, and can hold 6 TB of memory per appliance. The XC940-24 is available with all flash or as a hybrid with flash and hard disk drives and supports 10-Gigabit Ethernet or 25 GbE networking. Dell positions it as the XC version for running high-performance applications such as in-memory and memory-intensive databases.

The XC940-24 also has a new interface that integrates with the Nutanix Prism software stack. “The interface looks like Prism but Dell designed it,” said John Shirley, director of product management for the Dell EMC XC family.

Dell sees XC as the HCI choice for customers running multiple hypervisors, while VxRail is for VMware-only customers. But the multiple hypervisors of choice for XC customers rarely includes Nutanix AHV, Shirley said. He said Microsoft Hyper-V is the second most common choice behind VMware’s ESX, although Nutanix claims more than 35% of its customers are using AHV.

Dell EMC is not on the list of backup vendors that support AHV. Its Avamar software and Data Domain backup targets are not integrated with AHV. “If we see big traction, we’ll take a look at it,” Shirley said. “It’s not on our roadmap now.”

XC sales contributes to Dell’s No. 1 spot in HCI market share. Dell ranks first in IDC hardware and Dell-owned VMware is tops in HCI software, with Nutanix standing second in both lists. Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey said his company is second due to “funky accounting,” but Dell is chasing world domination in HCI.

“We haven’t been shy about saying we want to be number one in hyper-converged,” Shirley said.

Will HCI SDN go with the Flow?

Potti said Nutanix Flow software-defined networking will converge one more IT role, bringing HCI administration more in line with the cloud.

“You can consolidate the networking admin with the storage admin and the server admin,” he said. “In AWS, there is no networking admin. There is no storage admin. There is no server admin. There’s only the cloud admin or cloud operations or cloud DevOps. So that hyper-convergence of roles has to happen. That’s the core reason we’re doing the network piece.”

Potti said AWS was more of the model for Flow than VMware NSX, which gives SDN to VMware’s vSAN HCI software. “You go to Amazon, provision virtual machines, then suddenly there’s a new policy for security,” he said. “You can put 10 VMs in a security group and the system makes sure they’re segmented.”