Wireless Technologies

Could a drone datacentre provide emergency aid?

There’s a jungle cat in the bathroom - only in Vegas right? As The Hangover series of movies depicted, strange things happen in Sin City. Nutanix’s chosen location for its second annual .NEXT conference, the Wynn Resort built by Vegas property veteran Steve Wynn, was a flamboyant backdrop to the often dry feature upgrade announcements for the company’s hyper-converged infrastructure products. And yet in the midst of all the talk about new support for containers and one-click upgrades, there was an interesting cameo for a young Australian employee who built a drone for company.

Sydney, Australia-born Richard Arsenian, a solutions architect at the San Jose-based company, has managed to create what is essentially a flying datacentre. It’s the result of a few months’ work tinkering in the virtual shed that seems to have been built within the walls of Nutanix at the behest of founder and CEO Dheeraj Pandey. It’s the sort of internal innovation thing you’d expect at Google but not necessarily a business built on infrastructure technology.

So what’s going on? Firstly, Pandey seemed in a philosophical mood. He talked about the business and the need to not just cement its position in the market but also surge forward with new ideas and innovation. Don’t a lot of CEOs? But he also seemed thoughtful on the firm’s culture, not wanting to lose its startup feel and sense of adventure while also continuing on its current growth path.

“I don’t want to flatter to deceive,” he said. “The way to keep the business humming is to give it more personality. You need to fund the ambition but it’s easier said than done.”


Droning on

Given this context, his “sponsorship” of Arsenian’s drone project is telling. An engineer himself, Pandey is clearly trying to empower employees and encourage creativity and collaboration. Apparently he leads by example, as one of the company’s principal users of Slack, the hugely popular messaging app.

So what does Arsenian think?

“Dheeraj is of the mind-set that we should be thinking outside of the box, be creative to deliver applications that solve problems,” he says.

Fair enough. So why a drone?

“We wanted to look at the drone business,” says Arsenian. “Everyone is starting to look at drones: Amazon, Google... So this project is allowing us to understand that vertical but also provide a platform to that community.”

Arsenian also talks about how Nutanix could potentially open a new avenue to mobile datacentres for emergency services, military or even motor racing but it’s as much about staff creativity and expression as it is viable technology exploration.

It was perhaps fitting that on the same day Arsenian unveiled the drone, the Federal Aviation Administration in the US released news that commercial drone flights are getting a green light in the country. A timely reveal then and one that certainly caught the imagination of passers-by with its Stealth-like design with conference attendees stopping for drone selfies.

So what exactly is it then?

Arsenian says it runs Nutanix Community Edition (a free version of the company’s hypervisor software) and flight controller software as a virtualised application running in a Windows VM. It’s got a 4G LTE uplink, a router and it’s running OpenStack. An Intel Skull Canyon NUC mini PC with USB port provides the server processing element and a 22 volt battery powers the unit.

“If you want to de-dupe your data, compress it or replicate it to another Nutanix cluster, we can do that through the drone,” he says, adding he can also build a Windows VM, a Linux VM or whatever is required to process the data.

While he admits that current battery capacity limits the capability (it can fly for around 20 minutes), Arsenian says that ensuring 4G coverage is another issue, especially if you want to take it up beyond the 200ft (60 metres) he has currently taken it. That said, this shouldn’t detract from the apparent achievement of creating something of a first.

“Think of this as a platform now,” he says, “a mobile datacentre flying through the sky, travelling to wherever the client end point is, with real time processing.”

So what’s next?

“More R&D, more understanding,” he says clearly enjoying the creative freedom bestowed upon him from high. “We can get really creative with it.”

It’s certainly a project no one really expected to see at .NEXT but will it really fly? Hopefully for Arsenian’s sake, the usual Vegas moniker of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas won’t apply.    


Also read:

Never mind walls, US border patrols also want drones

Review: Commercial Drones 101

Nutanix CEO cagey on IPO next steps


« C-Suite Talk Fav Tech: George Schlossnagle, SparkPost


Meniga CEO plans a banking "advertising" ecosystem to rival Google »
Marc Ambasna-Jones

Marc Ambasna-Jones is a UK-based freelance writer and media consultant and has been writing about business and technology since 1989.

  • Mail


Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?