VMware versus Nutanix: With Dell charging in, it's time to end the war

Hurling rocks at an upstart is one thing, but chucking rocks at big Mike?

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Sysadmin blog With the Dell-Nutanix tie-up now public knowledge, expect a stream of digital vitriol to follow.

There's a lot of bad blood between the VMware faithful and Nutanix, not the least of which is due to Nutanix's completely rational decision to support multiple hypervisors – from Microsoft's Hyper-V to VMware's ESX tech.

The vDigierati may like to think that by trash-talking Nutanix no one will ever buy its kit again. They'll pounce on a marketing faux pas, or point out that VMware's internal sales team has created propaganda dedicated to convincing customers not to buy Nutanix.

To be blunt: they need to get over themselves.

Yes, Dell is still going to sell VMware VSAN-ready clusters. So will HP, Supermicro and so forth. You'll also see Nutanix continuing to sell Supermicro-sourced nodes under its own brand. Business partnerships aren't marriage and they certainly aren't monogamous.

Nobody is doomed here, and despite the fact that a lot of self-important bloggers won't be able to see it, the Nutanix-Dell tie-up actually is a win for VMware. What's more, their doom-mongering of Nutanix runs the risk of harming VMware far more than helping it.

Helping the enemy

VMware needs validation of the server SAN model more than Nutanix does. As margins on hardware shrink across the board, everyone is going vertical. The traditional partnerships are faltering, and eventually coalitions like VCE will collapse under the weight of competing interests.

VMware needs an answer to this. By combining their software-defined networking option NSX with their server SAN offering VSAN, they have one. VMware just needs to partner with a tin basher that doesn't have a big software investment (cough, cough, Supermicro). This gives a hardware vendor facing traumatic margin shrinkage a future and gives VMware a partner they can depend on absolutely.

For all that to occur, however, enterprises have to buy into the server SAN model. VMware is already locked in a vicious war of words over software-defined networking with companies at least as well resourced as it is. It can't afford to fight the storage wars too.

VMware can't come out and say "VSAN good, EMC arrays bad". Its big daddy EMC is still very much the boss, and so much time and effort goes into trying to manipulate the message into: "VSAN and EMC can work together, even though you really only need VSAN. But you also need EMC. But not really..."

Here, Nutanix is doing VMware's work for it. Nutanix, SimpliVity, Maxta and so forth are out there convincing the industry that server SANs are a good thing. They're taking the fight to the traditional storage vendors and now they have a powerful ally in Dell.

VMware's approach is legitimized through the halo effect of these efforts. More importantly, VMware doesn't have to get its hands dirty.

Share the market with a rival? Not in this capitalist-max world

While tactically the back-and-forth sniping doesn't make a lot of sense, strategically there is good reason. Silicon Valley nurtures a winner-take-all culture that thinks in terms of monopolies and absolute market dominance. The concept of sharing a market with competitors is anathema, and VMware's long-term goals are at odds with those of Nutanix.

VMware wants to own the whole infrastructure stack: hypervisor, networking, storage, management, automation, monitoring, orchestration, VDI, public cloud and more. The only things VMware doesn't want to own is the hardware side of the equation, because there's no margin in hardware. Why bother?

Nutanix, on the other hand, is a lot more mercenary. It doesn't care whose hypervisor is in use, or what networking is in play. It provides a true "infrastructure as a service" model, where it physically provides you with the actual infrastructure and then provide enterprise services to support it.

VMware wants to lock you into its software stack, getting you addicted to its software-defined infrastructure offerings and even going so far as to embed goodly chunks of your business logic into their automation and orchestration software. Nutanix wants to make your infrastructure something you never have to think about, give you the option of moving from one vendor's stack to the other, and charge you quite handsomely for it.

These can't coexist. If VMware is to rule the world then there can be no other infrastructure players but it. All foes must be vanquished. Those who make the transition to another vendor's stack easier, or who provide the tools to manage that stack more efficiently are doubly damned. Nutanix does both.

Similarly, if VMware succeeds, there is simply no need for Nutanix to exist at all. Nutanix needs to carve out new niches and encourage users to move to other hypervisors because VMware is gunning for it, and they have a lot more resources to bring to bear.

The third path

VMware's marketing department is peopled with grizzled, battle-hardened vets, collectively tougher and whole lot meaner than Nutanix's team. Dell gives Nutanix a critical ally.

I expect Dell to provide a stabilizing force. They ought to serve as a sober third party for Nutanix's efforts. No more gaffes with videos will be allowed; what Nutanix says and does now reflects on Dell. By the same token, Dell insulates Nutanix from the worst of the FUD. It's one thing to throw rocks at a startup, another entirely to take on a company as experienced as Dell.

With luck, Dell's involvement will bring about a ceasefire in this ridiculous blogger war. All these companies need each other, in the short term at least. As for the long term, well... may the best technology win. ®

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