Hyper-Converged Newcomer Lenovo Inks OEM Agreement With Red-Hot Startup Nutanix

Lenovo and Nutanix unveiled a strategic partnership Wednesday in which the vendors will jointly build and sell hyper-converged infrastructure appliances, which combine compute, storage and networking on x86 server hardware.

Under the partnership, Lenovo will install Nutanix's software on its System X servers at the factory, and Lenovo's direct sales team and channel partners will sell co-branded hyper-converged appliances, Howard Ting, senior vice president of marketing at Nutanix, said in an interview.

Ting said Lenovo and Nutanix won't be sharing specifics about hardware and configurations until next month.

Teaming up with Nutanix, the top hyper-converged player with more than $312 million in venture funding, should help Lenovo raise its profile in this nascent market. Lenovo inked a similar deal with SimpliVity, the No. 2 player with more than $276 million in funding, in August.

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[Related: Sources Say Lenovo Jumping Into Enterprise Hyper-Converged With SimpliVity Partnership]

Ting said the Lenovo-Nutanix deal is a true OEM agreement that's similar to the one Nutanix inked last year with Dell. But while Dell is selling Nutanix through its existing sales force and channels, he said Lenovo is going a step further by forming a dedicated sales force specifically to sell Nutanix.

"That's a level of commitment that we never got with Dell," Ting said, adding that this represents a "sizable investment" on Lenovo's part.

Lenovo also gives Nutanix a "very strategic go-to-market position" in the Chinese market, Ting said.

Ting also told CRN that the Lenovo-Nutanix agreement has been in the works for several months, and is not a reaction to Dell's $67.1 billion bid to acquire EMC. "Obviously, the [Dell-EMC] deal won't close for a while. Until it does, we're still working with Dell and it's business as usual," he said.

Nutanix is seeing benefits from its Dell partnership, with business experiencing a major uptick over the past three quarters, including a large virtual desktop deal with the FBI, said Ting.

Jeff Guenthner, director of solutions architecture at CMI, a Mill Valley, Calif.-based Nutanix partner, told CRN he's bullish on the Lenovo partnership.

"I think it is good for us because it allows us to be omni-channel with Nutanix through legacy server vendors, and that is a model that allows everyone to win," Guenthner said. "It is a lot easier to push than pull sometimes. This is one of those times."

Another Nutanix partner, who didn't want to be named, said the Lenovo deal makes some sense considering the ramifications of the Dell-EMC deal.

"It looks like Nutanix may be getting closer to making themselves an OEM play," said the partner. "After all, that’s what it looks like SimpliVity is doing. If I were running Nutanix, I would probably do OEM deals with each of the server manufacturers, and then sell the hell out of the technology like Intel does."

Nutanix, which prior to the Dell partnership only sold its products on Supermicro servers, has also been exploring a strategic partnership with Hewlett-Packard, sources told CRN in September. Rumors also surfaced in May that Cisco Systems was making a play to acquire Nutanix.

Nutanix has said previously that it's considering offering its technology in a software-only format, and Ting told CRN such a move could help the startup expand its market reach.

"In the long run, we see Nutanix as a technology that's available on all platforms and is as broadly consumable as a public cloud like Amazon Web Services," said Ting.