Nutanix On IBM Power Servers: HCI With An Eye Towards Mission-Critical Linux Workloads

The new initiative to bring Nutanix hyper-converged infrastructure technology to IBM's Power-based servers revolves around using hyper-convergence for mission-critical workloads.

Nutanix and IBM on Tuesday unveiled a partnership under which IBM will sell new turnkey appliances consisting of IBM Power-based servers and Nutanix's software stack.

The focus is not on Power-based servers in general, but those being sold for use in Linux environments, said Greg Smith, senior director of product and technical marketing for San Jose, Calif.-based Nutanix.

[Related: 23 Powerful Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Products]

Sponsored post

"Within the Power market, the demand for Linux on Power is rising," Smith told CRN. "IBM and Nutanix think this is a good opportunity to bring hyper-converged infrastructure to that architecture."

That focus on Linux is important given that IBM's Power-based server sales overall are falling. In March IDC estimated IBM server sales in the fourth quarter of 2016 to be $1.8 billion, which is down 17.1 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2015. IBM server sales include primarily its Power-based midrange and mainframe servers since IBM sold its x86-based server business to Lenovo in 2014.

The partnership plays on both companies' strengths, Smith said.

"Nutanix is providing the same consumer-grade, delightful experience it brings to hyper-converged infrastructure in general, including one-click deployment and one-click scalability," he said. "IBM brings a high-performance platform for what IBM calls 'cognitive workloads' including big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence."

The focus on Linux-powered Power servers is key to understanding the new relationship, said Lief Morin, president of Key Information Systems, a Woodland Hills, Calif.-based solution provider, and long-time IBM channel partner.

Morin told CRN that his company has a huge Power systems business. However, while IBM's Power server sales for AIX or System i workloads are falling, the server platform is growing quickly when it comes to the Linux market, he said.

It is also important for the IT industry to have a high-performance alternative to x86-based servers, and IBM is that alternative, Morin said. "I have a great respect for Intel," he said. "We sell a lot. But people like a two-party system. In servers, we don't have one. Intel is 95 percent of the business. IBM is the only company with the technology, the intellectual property, the patent portfolio to create core chips that can compete with Intel in the long term."

Within the next five years or so, nearly all workloads will be running on Windows or some variant of Linux, Morin said. "So it makes sense that Power is where IBM is putting its energy and investment to developing new partnerships," he said.

Hyper-converged infrastructure will be at the center of more and more commercial workloads over time, and will increasingly take advantage of new technologies like persistent memory to handle even the toughest workloads, Morin said.

"When you have a 1U or 2U box with eight Intel or Power cores and 10 TBs of high-performance capacity per node, and you stack 10 nodes in half a rack, why have an external array anymore," he said. "That will run any workload."

Morin said Nutanix on Power would not take over the world this year. However, over the next couple years, he expects the business to grow.

"They're in it for the long-term," he said. "Nutanix will be on a platform that has a strong upside."

Smith said that, under the partnership, Nutanix is providing its software stack, including its own AHV hypervisor, formerly known as Acropolis, for the Power server platform. AHV already works on the Power architecture and supports Linux workloads, he said.

"The opportunity in front of IBM and Nutanix is to provide the top hyper-converged infrastructure technology with our hypervisor on high-performance Power systems," he said.

Smith declined to discuss the size of the market for Nutanix on Power systems. However, he said, analyst projections expect the hyper-converged infrastructure market to reach about $6 billion by 2020.

"IBM doesn't compete in this market yet," he said. "But we think IBM and Nutanix have an opportunity to increase the hyper-converged infrastructure market. And the two companies are committed to making hyper-converged infrastructure work with any workload including cognitive workloads, cloud native apps, and traditional workloads."

Turnkey offerings including Nutanix on Power servers are slated to be available sometime this year, and will be sold via IBM's direct and indirect sales channels, Smith said.