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Nutanix Xi launches as long-term AWS challenger

While Amazon holds court at re:Invent in Las Vegas this week, hyper-converged pioneer Nutanix launched services that it hopes can eventually challenge the public cloud giant.

Nutanix used its European .NEXT conference in London this week to declare its Xi Services generally available, more than a year after first teasing Xi. Nutanix Tuesday evening officially launched Xi Leap for disaster recovery and Xi IoT for edge computing.

“The baby is born,” Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey said in an interview from London. “After nine months of gestation.”

Make that 18 months since Nutanix first told the world about Xi at its 2017.NEXT conference in the U.S. Nutanix executives said Xi is now available Tuesday night while reporting earnings, exceeding expectations for last quarter’s revenue and this quarter’s forecast.

Pandey called Xi’s launch “a watershed moment” for Nutanix. “It’s been a couple of years of hard work,” he said of Xi development. “Going from a software company to a service provider is a big deal actually. The biggest value of being a service company is how we’re going to understand networking and security and migration, many things that we left to our current on-prem customers to figure out on their own. How do you do that on their behalf? But it’s a great on-ramp to hybrid clouds.”

Pandey said the early Nutanix Xi offerings mostly complement AWS and other public clouds such as Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform, “for now.” Nutanix may be two years away from making a stiff challenge, but it is headed in that direction. At the same time, Amazon is moving into Nutanix’s turf with its newly launched Outposts that bring compute and storage into AWS customers’ data centers to enable hybrid clouds.

Nutanix is also offering three previously available products as Xi services. They include Xi Frame for virtual desktops, Xi Beam for multi-cloud management, and Xi Epoch for monitoring.

So far, the Xi Services apply to workloads running in customers’ data centers or the edge. The plan is to extend these services to applications running in public clouds.

The initial Xi services are designed to help enterprises make on-premises apps “cloud-ready,” Pandey said.  Eventually, Nutanix plans to make all of its on-premises services available through Xi.

“As we get deeper into multi-cloud services, object storage, file storage, Apache Servers, it will be probably another 18 to 24 months before we go front and center against public cloud providers,” Pandey said. “But that being said, things like Azure Stack and VMware Cloud on AWS will definitely become competitive for us now.”

Nutanix revenue of $313 million for the quarter increased 14% from a year ago and three percent from the previous quarter. It also beat the high end of the company’s forecast by $3 million. Its software and support billings – reflecting its growing subscription base – came in at $351 million.

Nutanix lost $94.3 million in the quarter – compared to a $62.5 million loss a year ago – but finished the quarter with $965 million in cash. That’s up from $934 million the previous quarter. The vendor forecast revenue between $325 million and $335 million and billings between $410 million and $420 million this quarter. The revenue guidance was above financial analysts’ consensus expectation of $327 million.

Pandey said Dell EMC and Dell-owned VMware remain Nutanix’s stiffest hyper-converged competitors, although Dell EMC still sells Nutanix software as an option to its VMware-based Dell EMC vXRail appliances.

He said Nutanix has not seen meaningful competition from other large server and storage vendors who have moved into hyper-convergence such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Cisco and NetApp.

“This is an operating systems game, it’s not about hardware at all,” he said. “It’s about compute and storage and networking and security and Kubernetes, database virtualization, and desktop virtualization. It’s not just about, ‘We put storage on a server so we’re hyper-converged.’”

During the earnings call, Pandey said, “the next 18, 24 months is going to be a lot of VMware, a lot of three-tier, maybe you see a little bit of Azure Stack … And over the course of the next six quarters maybe some Azure as well.”

Nutanix said its AHV hypervisor is now adopted on 38% of nodes running the Nutanix stack, up from 35% in the previous quarter. Pandey expects the adoption rate to increase because Xi services require AVH, even if customers stick with VMware hypervisors for their on-prem nodes.

“Without being too self-righteous we’re saying, ‘Look, we will actually support mix-mode customers where they’re running VMware on-prem and off-prem could be AHV,’” Pandey said. “We don’t go and shove AHV down their throat. If you’re happy with VMware, stay with it, because we can still sell a lot of data services and network services and compute services on top of it.”

Nutanix Xi Leap can protect any application running on Nutanix on-premises, Four cloud availability zones in the United States provide failover and failback. Another cloud zone is planned for the U.K. in early 2019. Customers can implement and manage Leap through Nutanix Prism software. Nutanix promises one-click DR testing, failover and failback for the subscription service.

Nutanix Xi IoT does not require Nutanix nodes to run. It consists of a SaaS control plane and an Edge platform that runs as a virtual machine on any hyper-converged system. Xi IoT connects to public clouds to protect data on the edge. The service will bill customers a monthly fee for edge instances with added fees for data services.