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Nutanix promises cheap, speedy storage for cloudy servers

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Khosla Ventures, the private equity fund set up by Sun Microsystems cofounder Vinod Khosla, is kicking in a hefty chunk of dough in the second round of funding for cloud appliance maker Nutanix.

Nutanix was founded in 2009 by file system experts from Aster Data and Google as well as system clustering experts from Oracle, and came out of stealth mode this August. Its stated goal: "banning the SAN" from the clusters of physical servers that host virtual machines.

The company's Complete Cluster is based on two-socket x86 servers that come in tray-style chassis sourced from Dell and Super Micro, configured with Intel and Fusion-io solid state disks and Seagate SATA drives.

The secret sauce in the cloudy infrastructure is the Nutanix virtual storage controller, which is called Scale-Out Converged Storage, or SOCS for short. This controller software runs on four of the twelve cores on each server node and virtualizes the SSD and disk storage and virtual machines with block and file I/O access to data spread across these disks inside the cluster.

SOCS does for storage what tools like ScaleMP's vSMP does for compute: glom together multiple nodes and made them look like one big machine.

Real storage area networks are necessary to make use of live migration for virtual machines as well as snapshotting, replication, thin provisioning, and high-availability features upon which server virtualization hypervisors generally depend.

The requirement of SAN storage and the expensive Fibre Channel switching means that true cloudy server infrastructure is too expensive and usually too powerful for many small and midrange IT shops – and even large enterprises want to spend less, not more, when they move from distributed servers to in-house private clouds.

Nutanix thinks it has just the thing to make clouds more affordable. But it is going to take some money and partnerships to get this product off the ground.

To that end, Khosla Ventures is leading the Series B funding for Nutanix, which is giving the company $25m to play with; its Series A round, which closed back in April when it was still in stealth mode, was for $13.2m and was led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Blumberg Capital. Lightspeed was an early investor in Brocade Communications, Riverbed Technology, and Fusion-io, and along with Blumberg, it also put some money into the kitty in this second round.

"When I was at Sun Microsystems, the focus was on decoupling the client and the server over a physical network," said Khosla, the man, in a statement announcing the investment by Khosla, the venture. "In the 30 years since then, the clock has turned full circle. Virtualization has made it possible to run clients and (storage) servers in the same hardware. Network storage, as we know it, is ready to be radically disrupted. Data centers will be dramatically faster, simpler, and greener with Nutanix."

Back in August, when Nutanix came out of stealth, the company said that a rack of Nutanix converged server-storage infrastructure would cost just over $2m. But compared to a rack of servers, switches, and SANs, the Nutanix setup costs anywhere from 40 to 60 per cent less. Thanks to automated tiering on the storage part of the server cluster, and thanks to the SOCS controller, the Nutanix machines could deliver somewhere around ten times the bang for the buck.

Maybe now that Nutanix has some cash, it can run some benchmark tests and actually prove these claims, as well as port the Xen, KVM, and Hyper-V hypervisors from Citrix Systems, Red Hat, and Microsoft to the Complete Cluster iron. The machines currently only support VMware's ESXi 4.1 hypervisor, so there needs to be an update to the new ESXi 5.0 hypervisor, too. ®

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