Dell and Nutanix have jointly announced the Dell XC Series of Web-scale Converged Appliances, a Dell hardware solution running Nutanix hyperconverged software, as an open-ended partnership. Available in October, the XC Series will function similarly to Nutanix’s current proprietary hardware, except that it will be based on specific (and as-yet-unannounced) configurations of Dell PowerEdge rackmount hardware, with Nutanix hyperconverged software on board.
Branding will continue to be the same, with the Dell label on the front and the Nutanix name on the software itself. Support tasks will fall along those same lines, too, with Dell handing hardware needs and Nutanix handling software issues. Existing Nutanix customers won’t initially be able to grow their current clusters using XC Series configurations, though this is planned as a future enhancement.
This isn’t the first date for Dell and Nutanix, as Dell sales folks have had the ability to sell Nutanix’s wares for a while now. I suspect that most Dell customers didn’t know that, however. This partnership is more like the two going steady. It doesn’t have equity stakes or investments, and it actually isn’t exclusive, though with all the energy each will pour into the relationship it’s hard to imagine either having time for someone else. It’s also a highly visible move, and each side brings something important and complementary to the table.
Dell is one of the few hardware manufacturers left. If you look at many storage arrays or converged hardware systems nowadays, you’ll see they’re either built by Dell OEM Solutions or by Supermicro. Nutanix’s “proprietary” hardware has classically been built on Supermicro equipment, but what does Nutanix care? Its secret is in software, and it’s just trading one industry leader for another while gaining access to Dell’s massive sales force. It also gets larger server configurations to handle larger workloads, addressing a common criticism of its Supermicro-based hardware, which sometimes seems a bit small for Tier 1 workloads. Dell also has robust networking offerings, which is something that Nutanix installations depend on for success.
Dell is strong in hardware but weaker in software, which is where Nutanix shines. Nutanix’s software-defined storage was developed by Google File System pioneers and creates a solid foundation for virtualization. With its latest releases of Nutanix OS, it has answered nearly all of the feature requests demanded of it, like remote replication, centralized management, and deduplication. It is also hypervisor-agnostic, permitting customers to run VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, or KVM. This gives Dell customers flexibility they wouldn’t have had if Dell had chosen the fledgling, and largely unproven, VMware VSAN for its hyperconverged needs. Nutanix OS is a more mature software-defined storage platform that has proven out for enterprise workloads of all sorts as well as for specialized workloads like virtual desktops.
Will This Partnership Work?
This is a huge win for Dell, and especially so for Nutanix. Often when a deal like this is struck, with a large company beginning to sell a smaller company’s offerings, the smaller company cannot keep up with demand. In this case, because Dell has the capacity to handle the hardware side, Nutanix only needs to scale its support. Which, admittedly, will be a lot of work, but it could be worse. I’m optimistic. It will be interesting to see how the partnership is doing in three to five years. Will it end in another bad breakup, like that of EMC and Dell? Or will these two end up at the altar of the SEC together? In the meantime, enterprise customers that already trust Dell have great new software-defined options to help rid their data centers of legacy infrastructure.