Startup Nutanix To Cisco: Welcome To Hyper-Convergence Market, Good Luck Catching Up With Us

Nutanix, the top startup in the hyper-convergence market with a $2 billion-plus valuation, says it isn't afraid of networking giant Cisco Systems entering the space with its HyperFlex Systems offering.

"Cisco is a formidable competitor with a strong channel base, but with a history of false starts entering new markets," Chris Morgan, Nutanix's vice president of channels and distribution for the Americas, U.S. Federal and EMEA markets, said Tuesday in an email to CRN.

Cisco unveiled a new hyper-converged infrastructure product line Tuesday called HyperFlex Systems, which marries its UCS servers with software-defined storage from startup Springpath. Cisco has partnered with Springpath and also led a previously undisclosed Series C round of funding in the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup.

[Related: Cisco Teams With Startup Springpath, Sets Sights On Total Dominance Of The Hyper-Convergence Market]

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With HyperFlex, Cisco is entering an emerging market that so far has been dominated by Nutanix, which has raised more than $312 million in funding, and SimpliVity, the No. 2 player in the space with $276 million in funding.

Hyper-converged infrastructure typically refers to the combination of compute and storage running as software on x86 server hardware. In Cisco's view, offerings from Nutanix and other startups in the space fall short when it comes to networking and performance.

Todd Brannon, Cisco’s director of product marketing for UCS, told CRN last week that HyperFlex Systems is aimed more at Nutanix than SimpliVity, which has a UCS partnership with Cisco.

Yet Cisco is coming late to the hyper-convergence market, and partners that work with it and Nutanix told CRN they believe Springpath's technology is still largely unproven.

"Nutanix is a much smaller and agile company than Cisco. You don’t make up a two- or three-year late entry to the market by just marketing," Jim Steinlage, president of Choice Solutions, a Nutanix partner in Overland Park, Kan., told CRN.

Nutanix's Morgan said his company has a similar view of the competitive threat posed by the Cisco-Springpath hyper-convergence alliance.

"Channel partners have already communicated to us that they will take a wait-and-see approach with this unproven technology from an untested startup," Morgan said. "Channel partners should ask why Cisco is hedging their bets when there is so much at stake for their customers."

A Cisco spokesman declined comment.

Cisco is a new rival for Nutanix, which has been duking it out with VMware in a public war of words for the past couple of years, and recently began going after its customers. Nutanix now has its own KVM-based server hypervisor, called Acropolis, and technology that converts VMware ESX-based workloads to its format.

Tim Joyce, CEO of Roundstone Solutions, a San Francisco-based Nutanix partner, said one of the startup's strengths is that customers have options when it comes to choosing a hypervisor.

"Most competitors only offer VMware on their platforms, while Nutanix offers VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, and also Acropolis, which is a real game-changer," said Joyce. "We think that Nutanix is far ahead of the competition and pulling away."

Sources have told CRN that Cisco is going especially hard after Nutanix in the hyper-convergence market because it made an unsuccessful attempt to acquire the San Jose, Calif.-based startup last year. Spokespeople from Cisco and Nutanix declined to comment.

Nutanix, for all the buzz it has generated, still wasn't profitable at the time of its S-1 filing in December. Nutanix reported a loss of $126.1 million in its fiscal 2015, compared with $84 million in 2014 and $44.7 million in 2013. Nutanix had an accumulated a deficit of $312 million as of the end of October, it said in the S-1.

Last week, CNBC reported that Nutanix has decided to delay its planned IPO until financial market conditions improve.