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Cisco and Nutanix – Partner bliss or partner fiasco?


Recently Nutanix announced it was NOT partnering with Cisco to launch a hyperconverged offering.  In a recent blog titled “Nutanix and Cisco UCS: On Responsibility and Change”, Nutanix attempts to spin that they have innovated a new era of partnering by not partnering…all inspiration bigstock-Arguing--111911993.jpgof Gandhi.   Since, HPE is not directly involved in this brawl, I was going to stay on the sidelines and watch. However, after reading Nutanix’s blog, I felt obligated to add a dose of reality on why vendors partner.

After a casual read, it would appear that this is a joint blog, but read more closely, it is clear it’s a deception at best and not the least bit associated with the spirit of Gandhi.

But deception is not the reason I am jumping in, but rather to discuss the real engineering required to provide a great user experience. Nutanix lays out the case that they will provide a hyperconverged experience on third party hardware, despite the lack of any agreement or collaboration. In addition, they parade Dell and Lenovo out as proof points to how they have mastered hardware. I am sure my friends at Dell and Lenovo appreciate being positioned as a proof point to help their ”partner” Nutanix compete against them. The reality is that when vendors enter into partnerships, it’s because they are going to provide a seamless experience which requires collaboration and R&D investment.  And there’s a reason deep partnerships and millions in R&D investments exist throughout the industry between hardware vendors and software vendors like VMWare, Microsoft, SAP, Docker, Red Hat and others; it’s to ensure a great customer experience.  

Strong joint industry partnerships - FlexPod and SAP HANA TDI model

You purchase a hyperconverged offering because you want a solution that is simple and just works.   This is a promise that must span the lifecycle of the appliance, managing multiple lifecycle events like firmware upgrades and hardware upgrades. To do this successfully, companies enter into partnerships, where engineers collaborate, share roadmaps and support joint engineering.  This is very evident when you check out the FlexPod websites, where they post detailed compatibility matrixes to ensure that it ‘just works’ -- a result of many years of joint testing and engineering.

In the second example, SAP extended their model for delivering SAP HANA software by delivering a non-appliance HANA offering through their “Tailored Data Center” (TDI) program, while maintaining a great customer experience.  This is precisely what Nutanix proposes to do with Cisco USC.  The difference is that with SAP, there’s no fine print.  SAP clearly documents that TDI customers “must have individual support agreements with the hardware vendors” and they or the customers themselves are responsible for maintaining the systems’ compliance for firmware upgrades, etc. In our experience, customers who choose TDI offerings often enter into multi-year services contracts, which typically make the system more costly over time than if they would have chosen a HANA appliance.  

I am sure Nutanix will say that the FlexPod and SAP comparisons are not fair.  But the fact of the matter is that firmware is firmware and needs to be managed, either by the vendor or the customer…plain and simple.  I might have been more impressed if Nutanix had offered proof of true innovation with some new software that could solve the firmware upgrade issue, but none was offered in the article. Two years from now, when a firmware patch update causes system issues, without a partnership agreement, the finger-pointing will start…and who will be there to take the call?  Nutanix may call on the wisdom of Gandhi, but I doubt he will provide firmware upgrades to fix the issues that the hardware requires.  

You may also be asking why Nutanix is pursuing these types of non-partnerships. I think you only need to read a recent IDC study1 which highlights that customers are looking for tier 1 hardware vendors for the next wave of hyperconverged deployments.  

The report states, “More than 70% of the people surveyed indicated the vendor’s ability of offer a complete product portfolio was ‘very important, we value a vendor’s ability to deliver full breadth of products and services’ or ‘important, we prefer to keep as much with trusted partners.’”

Said another way, customers have not had a great experience with white box hyperconverged offerings to date. By posing as partnering with Cisco, Nutanix is trying to reach for that tier 1 halo without doing any of the work it requires.  

I will continue to monitor how this non-partnership unfolds with interest, but in the meantime, if you are looking for a simple virtualization solution that just works, I know a vendor who can deliver this today, with a tried and trusted solution.  And, oh by the way, it’s built on the world’s best-selling server.


1  Source: IDC Converged Systems: End User Survey Report 2015

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Paul Miller
VP of Marketing, HPE

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Paul Miller is VP of Marketing for the HPE Software-Defined and Cloud Group business unit. The SDCG organization is responsible for marketing for HPE Synergy, HPE OneView, and Hyper Converged Solutions portfolio.