Nutanix CEO: Cloud world is ripe for innovation

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Dheeraj Pandey, CEO of Nutanix.
Dheeraj Pandey, CEO of Nutanix.

Nutanix is now a decade old, and as the computing world has evolved, so has the company.

It now has about half the hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) market, according to Gartner, followed by VMware. IDC, on the other hand, reverses these positions. In any event, the HCI market is seen as a two-horse race.

Nutanix often says that its aims to make all its infrastructure ‘invisible’, or, put another way, its infrastructure is now expected to be so reliable that the user forgets it’s even there.

ITWeb spoke to CEO Dheeraj Pandey (44) about the company’s genesis at its .NEXT conference in Copenhagen recently.

Pandey says it was in 2009 that he and co-founders Mohit Aron and Ajeet Singh noticed that the hyperscale cloud providers – at the time only offering consumer cloud services – were building their infrastructure in a unique way. They were using commodity servers and software, with no proprietary hardware.

At around the same time, Pandey and his co-founders also witnessed the rise of the iPhone. The world, it appeared, was abandoning single purpose gadgets and moving to a ‘converged experience,’ examples of which were iOS, or Android.

“We thought there was a company to be formed here,” he recalls, and one that would deliver its vision of convergence ‘to the masses’. This involved delivering Web-scale engineering for infrastructure, as well as making it easy to consume and use, much like Apple was doing.

First workload

First, though, they needed to decide what workload they were going to experiment with.

“We thought virtualisation would be a great use case for this. At the time, virtualisation was basically graduating to the next level of production workloads, beyond test and dev,” he says.

The problem was, back then, that virtualisation had to be retrofitted into three-tier architecture, which presented problems of its own.

“That was the genesis of the company. We said we’re going to compress everything into pure software, and converge the whole experience for the application folks so that they didn’t have to beg, borrow and steal infrastructure from server, storage, networking, and virtualisation people. They all just became one.

“But we had to do a whole lot more to make it more relevant. So, we made storage invisible.”

He says that by redefining virtualisation, Nutanix could now define the whole software stack, and deliver an operating system. Its virtualisation layer eventually grew into the Acropolis Hypervisor, or AHV, which is provided to organisations at no charge.

Panday says while organisations want to consume services, they don’t want to own anything.

“They just want access to services rather than owning software.”

Growing the market

Asked what the future holds for Nutanix and computing, Panday looks to the past. He says in the late ‘80s, the PC market was vertically integrated, such as in the case of Apple. However, this all changed with Windows as more manufacturers could now make money out of software.

We said we’re going to compress everything into pure software, and converge the whole experience for the application folks so that they didn’t have to beg, borrow and steal infrastructure…”

Dheeraj Pandey, Nutanix CEO

This, he reckons, grew the PC market by ten times, and a similar thing has happened with the Android market.

This also provides some clues about what’s coming next, part of which he believes will involve leveraging an ‘asset-light’ business model.

“I think that if cloud is going to be as big as we think it’s going to be, we need to know what the asset-light version is.

“Windows was the asset-light version of PCs, and Android was the asset-light version of handsets. What’s the asset-light version of cloud? That’s going to make the market ten times larger. And it’s going to come down to software,” he believes.

“In the coming ten years, cloud can be an asset-light version, which is like Uber or Airbnb, where the operating system company doesn’t own the asset. Uber doesn’t own the cars, and Airbnb doesn’t own the hotels. What’s the equivalent of that in the world of cloud? That’s the trillion-dollar idea. The question is, who’s going to do it?”

Panday says he’s interested in exploring the leveraged software model, and Nutanix is on the journey of re-architecting the partner network.

“Uber is a partner network. It’s a bunch of suppliers; people bring their cars, and Uber sits on top of it and says, ‘We’re going to intermediate this relationship between the consumer and the driver’, and neither one knows about the other one.

“The cloud world is ripe for innovation of this kind. It will happen. This is what Amazon did to Walmart. It didn’t go all in and say it was going to fulfil all the orders from its warehouse. Walmart was massively vertically integrated. The way Amazon did it was to say, ‘We’re going to have a million partners, and all we provide as an operating system is billing, payments, identity, recommendations and logistics.’ These five things have a very special meaning in the world of cloud.

“Logistics in the world of cloud means upgrades, and the movement of applications from one supplier to another. What is the operating system in the world of the asset-light cloud?”

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