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VMware and Nutanix Battle over Testing and Fear

There's a bit of a blog war going on between two prominent virtualization companies, which highlights some trends in the industry. The combatants are VMware, the leader in the space, and Nutanix, a maker of hyperconverged appliances that combine all aspects of virtualization -- compute, storage, networking, management and so on -- in one box.

VMware, of course, helped create the industry and has long been the most dominant force. Nutanix, which got its start in 2009, is a much smaller company, but in its narrow niche of hyperconverged appliances, it's as important and influential as VMware. It's considered the leader in that area. (It's also important to note here that Nutanix sells a lot of vSphere in its products, making the companies partners, as well as competitors.)

There are two primary opponents here: Chuck Hollis, chief strategist, VMware Storage and Availability Business Unit (and former CTO for parent company EMC). He blogs regularly at Virtual Blocks, the VMware storage blog. In the other corner is Lukas Lundell, global director of Solutions and Performance Engineering at Nutanix. He blogs a lot for the company.

First Shots Fired
As far as I can tell, the spat started when Hollis began a series of blogs (now four in all) that compared performance testing between Nutanix and VMware, contending that VMware wins out in all situations. He's also stated that VMware is significantly cheaper to use than Nutanix. By my count, that's five blog posts that take direct aim at Nutanix.

Nutanix's Lundell has fired back, and his main response is on his personal blog. It has the provocative title "Nutanix vs. vSan Price and Performance — Part 4 (Or Why Chuck and EMC Are Deathly Afraid of Us)." So, nothing controversial there, huh?

The title is one of the most interesting parts of it, and it appears that Lundell has a point: Hollis has spent a lot of energy targeting a much smaller company that, on the surface, appears to be no real threat to VMware. There are numerous hyperconvergence vendors out there, including SimpliVity, Scale Computing, Maxta, Atlantis and others; included in that list, of course, is VMware's own EVO:RAIL. Because Nutanix sales can't compare in any way to VMware sales, why all the energy spent?

Mortal Enemies?
Lundell thinks he knows why: "I also didn't realize we'd attract so many mortal enemies bent on our destruction along the way. This is the cost of disrupting an industry filled with entrenched interests," he writes. While I'd chalk this up to unfortunate hyperbole -- trying to point out the differences between your products and the competition, as Hollis is doing, is hardly the same as being "bent on destruction" -- it is true that VMware is entrenched. It's also struggling in some areas, including (possibly) EVO:RAIL sales, and public cloud.

Of course, one person's "entrenched" is another person's "very successful," and VMware fits both definitions. It continues to make more money every quarter, and last year it surpassed $6 billion in revenue for the first time. VMware isn't going anywhere for the foreseeable future, and appears healthy by most metrics. Given that, why all the focus on Nutanix?

Hollis spelled it out in his response to Lundell's post. He says, "… nobody here is afraid [of Nutanix] -- especially me. I know that makes for a colorful storyline, but it's just not true. What we do see is a small startup making ridiculous claims … which can confuse some customers. That's not good."

Testing ... 1, 2, 3 ... Testing
Much of the imbroglio has to do with testing. Hollins says that VMware's objective testing conclusively demonstrates its claims of better performance at a cheaper price. But, he points out several times, the Nutanix End User License Agreement (EULA) forbids publishing any test results of its products. Lundell says, basically, hogwash. "In the real world, the testing of these systems is not so simple," he says, and suggests a "real-world test methodology" that would include various types of tests.

And on it goes. Here are a couple of my takeaways from this back-and-forth:

1. VMware may indeed be afraid of Nutanix. Although Hollis rightly says that competitors often do make "ridiculous claims" about rivals (note that I'm not saying Nutanix is doing this; just that this sort of thing does happen, and frequently), he doesn't single out any other rivals -- just Nutanix. It may also be an indication of how important VMware feels the hyperconverged appliance market is about to become.

2. Lundell should seriously consider toning down his rhetoric. It doesn't help when one guy says a competitor "… will stop at nothing to steal, stifle and stall innovation to protect their monopoly.  Lawyer fracases, intentional misdirection, blatant misinformation, and  "brain-rapes".  It's all on the table." I've never seen a discussion, ever, anywhere, on any subject, improved by taking these types of cheap shots; it only serves to lower the bar. Treating others with respect is much more likely to lead to a positive, helpful discussion for all.

Test Yourself
3. Beware testing claims made by anyone. I've always felt that tests like this are of relatively little value to an admin. That's because the environment used for the test is 100 percent likely to not be your environment. Only you know what your needs are, what kind of infrastructure you have, what kind of workloads you're running, what your network is like, and so on.

If at all possible, perform the testing yourself, in your environment, with your workloads. Pretty much every vendor will offer a trial period, and you should take advantage of it. What works best for your datacenter may work worst for the company in the next building.

(Note that I did not interview either Hollins or Lundell for this article. My purpose was to highlight the discussion and offer a few thoughts on it. Both men state their cases eloquently.)

Posted by Keith Ward on 07/09/2015 at 4:14 AM


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