Primer Series: Nutanix
In this article
This was originally published in July 2020
Have you ever sat in a meeting and the conversation turns to a technology with which you are unfamiliar? Suddenly, a bunch of acronyms are being thrown around. You have no idea what they mean, while everyone else is nodding their heads and seems to know exactly what is being discussed.
We've all been there, and to help our valued customers, we've decided to write a series of 'primer articles' to give the reader basic information on various products and technologies. This article is going to cover the basics of Nutanix.
Before we dive into the technology, I highly recommend you take a look at the Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Primer article, as this requires some basic understanding of hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) concepts such as SDS (software-defined storage) and CVM (controller virtual machine).
Nutanix came out of stealth mode in 2011 and is arguably the biggest pioneer of the HCI market and a major force on why HCI is where it is today. The Nutanix portfolio expanded significantly in recent years, and it's important to know that Nutanix is not simply a "core HCI" solution. We'll dig a bit deeper later in the article on that topic.
One of the most important things to understand with Nutanix is that the server hardware, for the most part, is irrelevant. This is an important factor in the decision-making process that should be strongly considered. Customers should evaluate the features and functionality of the Nutanix software (and the portfolio) and assuming it meets the requirements, back into the right hardware for the organization. Nutanix supports most major server manufacturers including (but not limited to) Dell, HPE, Cisco and Lenovo.
It is worth noting that within each of the vendors, there are supported hardware compatibility lists (HCLs) that need to be followed and this is for the best. While Nutanix has flexibility in server vendors, there needs to be some checks and balances to ensure a good experience. Building your own custom solution isn't necessarily something we would recommend anyway, especially at scale.
Below are a few key terms that are important to understand in order to follow a conversation. This focuses on the core HCI platform. Additional portfolio items are listed in the next section.
- Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV): Nutanix developed its own enterprise-class bare-metal hypervisor called Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV), and it's a no-cost alternative to vSphere and Hyper-V (it is included in all Nutanix purchases). Do not confuse AHV with the Acropolis Operating System (AOS). There are no requirements to adopt the AHV hypervisor to run core Nutanix software. Nutanix also supports these major hypervisors: VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer.
- CVM / AOS: In the HCI Primer article, we covered what the CVM is: Controller Virtual Machine. The Acropolis Operating System (AOS) is the virtual machine operating system running inside the CVM. For context, think of a regular virtual machine as the CVM and Windows Operating System as AOS. The CVM and AOS are oftentimes interchanged in conversations but are the same thing. This virtual machine runs on every node in the cluster enabling the distribution of management services providing core functionality.
- Data Locality: This is an architectural concept where Nutanix tries to keep the virtual machine's "hot" data local to the host it is physically running on. It allows for local access to data vs. reaching over the network to access it, potentially decreasing latency and network utilization. At a high level, this can help the read performance of applications.
- Prism Element: This is the main interface for single cluster management. It provides a single interface look and feel across the different supported hypervisors. Through this interface, administrators can configure Nutanix storage services, monitoring, upgrades, etc. This is typically referred to as simply "Prism" or "PE."
- Prism Central: Prism Central, sometimes referred to as Prism Pro, is your multi-cluster/multi-site centralized management interface. This interface gives customers the ability to do "what-if" scenarios for growth and planning as well as basic automated virtual machine triggers through Xi-Play. Prism Central also serves as the starting point to deploy other Nutanix software such as Calm. Prism Central Starter edition is included with the purchase of Nutanix but does not include all the advanced features.
This section gives a brief description of additional (though not all-inclusive) products within the Nutanix portfolio. The development of these products gives Nutanix the ability to provide a full end-to-end software-driven data center. Learn more about why this concept is important to our customers. Unless specifically noted, these products work with both the vSphere and AHV hypervisors.
- Era: We've done some extensive coverage of Era and have a lab available on demand. At a high level — Era is a Database-as-a-Service (DBaaS) on steroids. Era automates deployments of database environments, patching, granular restore options, etc.
- Calm: Calm is an automation and orchestration tool that can help automate and deploy applications across the most existing data center infrastructure. It does currently require Nutanix infrastructure to get Calm deployed and operational. This is due to a requirement to deploy Calm through Prism Central to keep the "single pane of glass" management story. This is changing in the near future with a cloud-based Calm controller. A Calm introductory lab will be available shortly in our ATC.
- Files: Nutanix Files allows customers to create user shares (SMB or NFS) native to the platform and includes some compelling analytics. We covered Files in the past with a three-part series focusing on the analytics and created a lab around the functionality.
Nutanix Files Part I
Nutanix Files Part II
Nutanix Files Part III
- Flow: Flow is integrated with AHV and is not available for vSphere ESXi or other hypervisors. It is a software-defined network solution that allows customers to implement micro-segmentation on the AHV hypervisor. It is deployed and enabled with a few clicks of the mouse through Prism Central. Though Flow requires AHV, if a customer would like to run Nutanix with vSphere ESXi, the VMware NSX solution is fully supported.
- Xi Frame: Xi Frame requires AHV, however, this should not be the main focus of this technology. Xi Frame is Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS). The control management pane (Frame) lives in the cloud and allows customers to deploy desktops to AWS, Azure, GCP or on-premises. The only time AHV is required is when on-premises deployments are needed.
If you're looking for much deeper technical insights into the Nutanix architecture, check out the Nutanix Bible.