Nutanix chose the start of the hurricane season in Miami, Florida to host its first ever user conference earlier this month, so there was always a danger that accusations of ‘hot air’ could be thrown at the company. While it did blow out its share of hyperbole and marketing-speak, focussing on mantras such as “making infrastructure invisible” and “ease of use trumps everything” there was also some intriguing substance to its announcements.
Clearly this is a company that is building towards an IPO. It’s preening and jostling for position. CEO and founder Dheeraj Pandey said as much in his opening talk. But while the upstart software storage company (a definition that is no longer accurate after this event) beats its chest in the direction of rivals such as VMware; it still has some way to go to match the industry savvy of competitors.
Yet Nutanix doesn’t just want to play ball in that space anymore. It already claims a 52% share of the hyperconverged storage market where software plays a leading role in integrating compute, networking, storage, virtualisation and other datacentre elements. But it now has even loftier ambitions.
“That [storage] market is not where we want to end up. It’s not a big enough idea,” says Howard Ting, VP marketing at Nutanix. “It’s just about making storage invisible. We’ve done that.”
So where does he see the company going?
“Now we are bringing in virtualisation, container management, hyper cloud, so we are doing so much more than hyperconverged storage. I would think of us as the next generation enterprise computing platform.”
That’s a bold claim. Nutanix used the event at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach to launch its latest product and direction, the Xtreme Computing Platform, consisting of Acropolis, “an open platform for virtualisation and application mobility,” and Prism, an infrastructure management application. The hotel, where the opening scene of James Bond movie Goldfinger was filmed and acts such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and more recently Lady Gaga have performed, is no stranger to moments of history, so who knows, maybe Nutanix has written itself into the resort’s annals.
“It’s difficult to say,” comments Simon Robinson, analyst at 451 Research. “A couple of years ago Nutanix’s big thing was ‘No SAN’ so it has a history of big statements and being bold. There is a broader argument at the moment that the current model of deploying infrastructure is broken and organisations are looking for a different approach. Nutanix is certainly a part of that conversation now.”
OK, so there is still some way to go before it can take on the title of being the next Sun Microsystems in the sense that it’s going to reinvent enterprise IT. But clearly the pieces are falling into place. One of its lead investors after all is Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun and now heading-up Khosla Ventures. That gives Nutanix friends in high and influential places, especially as former US diplomat and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is now an adviser to Khosla. Rice was rolled out at the event as a keynote speaker, delivering an informative and engaging talk on international diplomacy and the role of innovation and business. Its relevance was tenuous but it was a draw and would have elevated the brand in the consciousness of the attending customers, many of which are very new to Nutanix.
So what do they think of the company? One customer, Jon Forster, global IT programme manager for UK health club chain Fitness First, hadn’t even heard of Nutanix seven months ago but he praises it anyway.
“I don’t see it as a storage company,” he says. “I don’t want to see the hardware and storage. I want something that is easy to check and that is running and consistent across the network and even other applications and services in the chain, such as Microsoft Azure. Nutanix is right to redefine itself but it has to maintain this idea of invisibility.”
Fit for IPO?
Forster was almost evangelical and agreed that Nutanix could be seen as the next Sun Microsystems, its potential impact on enterprise computing being that significant. He also agrees with Robinson’s assessment at 451, that Nutanix is now part of that increasingly essential mix of enterprise solutions trying to solve problems around the way in which enterprises run and manage virtual machines, regardless of hypervisor make and model.
So what about the IPO?
Ting was non-committal and talked mainly about “staying above the noise” a direct reference to the acquisition rumours, IPO mumblings and “FUD throwing” from competitors.
So what about challenges then? Every company has targets and challenges ahead of an expected IPO.
He talks about people and empathy but also disruption. He talks about the need to integrate employees of the future (“the scalers”) with the current employees (“the builders”) and maintaining the culture, which it seems has so far retained its start-up flavour. Above all though, Ting talks about being different. Of course, talking about it is not enough. Nutanix has to prove it. Few would doubt its ability to make waves. It has grown quickly in just five years but this is a massive challenge ahead, especially if it wants to leap to the next level. To do that it will need the big banks in the financial services market and more mission-critical users.
According to Ting, Nutanix is “currently engaged with all the major banks and they believe it is game changing and want to use it.” It’s a long sales cycle, he adds, but is adamant it will happen.
So “new Sun” or not, the company’s reputational stock looks to be rising and with an IPO and real stock in the offing, this company is definitely one to watch.
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