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Cumulus and Nutanix Team Up to Simplify Hyperconverged Infrastructure Networking

The partnership is the latest in a series of moves by HCI vendors to integrate networking into their solutions.

Data center network software provider Cumulus Networks has partnered with Nutanix to simplify networking on hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI).

Cumulus said Tuesday that it has integrated the Cumulus Linux operating system and NetQ management software with Nutanix’s Prism management software. As a result, data center operators deploying Nutanix-powered hyperconverged equipment can now provision and manage server, storage, and network resources through a single user interface, Cumulus CEO Josh Leslie explained. Network management is no longer in its own separate silo.

“One of the challenges with HCI is that it simplifies compute and storage, but it doesn’t really address the networking part,” Leslie said in an interview with Data Center Knowledge. “That’s what this partnership is about. We help automate the process of plugging Nutanix systems into a network and scaling them. It makes the process of using Nutanix systems and the Cumulus switching fabric incredibly simple and seamless.”

Analysts say this is a smart move for Cumulus because hyperconverged infrastructure is a lucrative, fast-growing market, and Nutanix is a market share leader.

Hyperconverged systems – which integrate server, storage, and virtualization into a small form-factor appliance – generated $1.5 billion in revenue during the 2018 second quarter, a 78.1 percent increase in year-over-year sales, according to the most recent data IDC has made available publicly. Nutanix, which has changed its business model from selling hyperconverged hardware to software, captured 34.2 percent of the HCI software revenue and is in a virtual tie with VMware for the market share lead.

“Cumulus has to work more closely with vendors such as Nutanix because the enterprise market is finding HCI attractive,” Brad Casemore, IDC’s research VP for of data center networks, told us. “By integrating seamlessly into the Nutanix environment, Cumulus is broadening its market reach. It should make it easier for the company to position itself to the Nutanix installed base.” 

Cumulus, which offers a Linux OS for data center network switches, competes against market share leaders Cisco, Arista Networks and Juniper Networks and other startups like Big Switch Networks in the data center networking market.

The Cumulus-Nutanix partnership is part of a larger trend where vendors have discovered that the network has to be integrated into an HCI offering. Initially, HCI vendors focused on compute and storage and treated networking as an afterthought, Casemore said.

“You had to sort out networking on your own, but the whole thing with HCI is that the network should be provisioned automatically to support HCI workloads,” he said. “When a virtual machine is spun up, you should have the network ports spun up, too. And if troubleshooting and remediation needs to be done, you shouldn’t have to manage the network separately. The network should be integrated with the hyperconverged fabric.”

Vendors are integrating networking into hyperconverged infrastructure through partnerships and acquisitions. Dell EMC, for example, has tight integration with its own VMware network virtualization software, but it also supports an open networking strategy and has partners that include Cumulus, Big Switch, and Pluribus Networks, Casemore said

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has integrated software defined networking into its SimpliVity HCI product through its Plexxi acquisition in 2018. As for Nutanix, its newest partner is Cumulus, but it also has partnerships with other networking vendors, including Arista, Big Switch, Juniper, and Pluribus, Casemore said.

 “All the networking vendors are looking to play in the HCI market, and Cumulus is looking to play in it, too,” he said.

Simplifying Hyperconverged Networking

Cumulus and Nutanix spent from six to nine months integrating their software, Leslie said.

“They exposed their APIs to us. We wrote to those APIs, and that allows their management plane to operate our technology,” he said.

When customers install HCI equipment running Nutanix software, they can automatically provision network resources on the HCI appliances and have network visibility through the Nutanix Prism interface, Leslie said.

According to a blog post announcing the partnership, the benefits include: streamlined installation for Nutanix clusters and Cumulus-powered switches on bare metal; automatic VLAN provisioning; a distributed networking solution with no need for a central controller; and visibility across the management fabric to validate network designs and simplify troubleshooting.

Another benefit is that customers of both companies can take advantage of their common hardware partners, such as Dell EMC, Lenovo, Mellanox, and Supermicro, to streamline procurement.

“Customers can go to any hardware vendor of their choice, buy the systems they need, and be able to use everything by adding the Nutanix and Cumulus software,” he said.

Leslie said Cumulus partnered with Nutanix because the networking startup’s customers asked for it. Last year, Cumulus closed $43 million in Series D funding, increased its workforce by 50 percent, and added Box, Dreamworks, PayPal, and Telstra to its client roster.

“A lot of people are buying Nutanix systems, and this makes buying Cumulus software along with that an attractive proposition,” Leslie said. “We expect it will create net new revenue opportunities.”

Correction: January 30, 2019
An error was made in editing a previous version of this article, stating that Cumulus was an HCI vendor. It isn't, and the article has been corrected accordingly.
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