VMware's Support Dust-Up With Nutanix May Signal Future Hyper-Converged Tensions

When Chuck Hollis, chief strategist for VMware's storage and availability business, penned a blog post aimed at Nutanix last month, he questioned the hyper-converged infrastructure startup's ability to support customers.

VMware often talks about its partner ecosystem as a competitive advantage. Yet in this case, it publicly cast doubt on a partner's support capabilities, a critical aspect of any technology vendor's business. While vendor partnerships often include competitive tensions, VMware isn't known for this sort of competitive rhetoric.

Several partners of both vendors told CRN they think the VMware-Nutanix partnership could see further tensions as the vendors vie for the hearts and minds of customers in this red-hot, but still nascent market.

[Related: 8 Ways VMware Thinks It's Better Than Nutanix, Every Other Hyper-Converged Vendor]

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In the blog post, Hollis said because Nutanix isn't a VMware vSphere OEM, it's not authorized to distribute or support the server virtualization software its customers are using.

So even though Nutanix helps customers with vSphere related issues, and has several VMware-certified experts on staff, Hollis said it's doing customers a disservice by not being upfront about the nature of its support.

"The honest truth is that a great deal of your product is based on vSphere, which Nutanix is not entitled to support. Take away vSphere, there wouldn't be much to look at," Hollis said in the blog comments in response to several Nutanix employees who voiced their concerns.

VMware is now in the hyper-converged market with its EVO:RAIL converged infrastructure software stack, and has signed up nine hardware vendors to build appliances. A spokesman for the Palo Alto, Calif.-based vendor told CRN that one main advantage of EVO:RAIL is simple product support.

"For hyper-converged solutions such as EVO:RAIL, customers are telling us that they value integration and are looking for one-call support for the whole solution," the VMware spokesman said in an email. "Customers receive integrated solution support when they work with a VMware qualified EVO:RAIL partner, VMware OEM partner or VMware channel partner."

Greg Smith, senior director of product and technical marketing at Nutanix, told CRN Nutanix "provides the best support experience in the industry -- bar none."

"We are committed to resolving our customer problems, even if the issue is with the hypervisor," Smith said in an email.

One Nutanix partner told CRN he's never had any issues with helping customers with vSphere issues. "Chuck is stirring the pot and he did a nice job," said the partner, who didn't want to be named.

Nutanix leads the global hyper-converged market after generating 52 percent of its overall revenue during the first half of 2014, research firm IDC said in January. Now, VMware has zeroed in on support as a way to slow Nutanix's momentum.

Interestingly, VMware hasn't yet called out SimpliVity, Nutanix's main rival in the hyper-converged market, for not being a vSphere OEM. A SimpliVity spokeswoman declined to comment on how it handles customer issues that pertain to VMware vSphere running on its flagship OmniCube product.

Sources told CRN VMware is giving SimpliVity a pass because it only supports VMware's hypervisor and is therefore viewed as less of a threat than Nutanix, which also supports Microsoft Hyper-V and KVM. Last month, The Register reported that Nutanix is working on its own hypervisor.

Pivot3, a Austin, Texas-based hyper-converged vendor that has been around since 2002, is an official vSphere OEM, which means it can provide VSphere support to its customers, a spokeswoman told CRN.

In cases where integrators or reseller partners add vSphere to a Pivot3 system, they also provide support, the Pivot3 spokeswoman said.

The hyper-converged market is just getting cranked up and there is probably room for both Nutanix and VMware to prosper. But given the level of tension on both sides that's evident in Hollis' blog post, it's fair to wonder about the future of the VMware-Nutanix partnership, especially since the vendors have clashed before.