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Nutanix Acropolis v4.6: A Technical Review from Your Everyday Architect

As a technical architect at AHEAD, one of my responsibilities is to be a subject matter expert on converged infrastructure (CI) and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). Today, I’ll be sharing my opinion on the recent release of a Nutanix software upgrade. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Nutanix, check out a blog post I wrote on Nutanix’s Invisible Infrastructure a few months ago. For additional context, here’s a post introducing Nutanix to the AHEAD Lab and Briefing Center (featuring the prior 4.1 release).

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Nutanix Acropolis
, more specifically, the software that glues physical nodes together and provides powerful storage features, was updated to version 4.6 on February 16, 2016. Aside from filling in gaps that have been discussed by Nutanix customers and competitors, this release continues the Nutanix story of building a software platform that is performant, simple, and flexible.

Performance

In my opinion, the most surprising benefit of this release is that Nutanix increased storage performance across most node types. Nutanix already provided fantastic performance and with this release, it’s gotten even better! It’s rather atypical for manufacturers to improve performance while also adding new functionality and features, so this was a great (and free) surprise.

That being said, performance is not the reason why Nutanix has been successful in the HCI space in the past. In fact, workloads that require very low storage latency shouldn’t be put on a HCI platform because HCI solutions today cannot provide sustained 1ms latency. However, the fact that Nutanix—as well as other HCI competitors—can beat the performance of traditional storage arrays is just another check in their favor.

Software Features 

Native File Services

Up until this launch, customers that needed scale-out NAS services had to decide between building and managing virtual file servers, or investing in scale-out NAS solutions like Isilon. This launch introduces scale-out file services as a tech preview, which can be thought of as a beta (non-production) release. This solution involves deploying new VMs in an automated fashion, through a few clicks in Prism, which runs Samba, presenting storage through SMB 2.1 (SMB 3 expected when it goes GA). Today the solution is only available when running AHV, but support under all hypervisors is expected once the production version is released. The solution leverages existing Nutanix storage and will spawn more file server virtual machines when additional performance is needed. This feature is expected to require Ultimate licensing, which isn’t a common purchase for customers unless they need advanced replication functionality. Confirmation for the licensing required is expected to be released before the feature is released for production. 

Improved One-Click Upgrades

One of the main reasons that Nutanix has been so successful is its simplicity of management.  A key component of this is the ability to automate the Acropolis and hypervisor upgrades. I’m excited to hear that they have broadened this category by adding BIOS, BMC, and Foundation updates to this process.

Nutanix also released (tech preview) an automated process that converts a cluster to AHV (Acropolis Hypervisor). It is my understanding that it is fully automated with a particular caveat: Nutanix Foundation still isn’t VLAN aware. But with that issue aside, this is a pretty amazing feature because it removes a barrier to entry for existing VMware and Hyper-V environments that lack experience with AHD. With a few clicks, a test cluster can be converted into AHD and testing can begin.

Cross-Hypervisor Disaster Recovery

Nutanix has a vision of being a flexible software solution, and it can be configured to replicate VMs across Nutanix clusters that have different hypervisors. This feature requires the installation of Nutanix Guest Tools so that it can provide the VM with the drivers required during the conversion. I haven’t tested this solution myself yet, but I assume that Nutanix will focus resources to make this feature work as intended, since it aligns to their focus on hypervisor flexibility.

Capacity Forecasting

Recent conversations with Nutanix seem to indicate that they might move away from this new, standalone license model and back to three-tiered licensing (simpler Starter/Pro/Ultimate). While I have no problem with Nutanix trying to capitalize on new features, this departure from Nutanix’s simple licensing model goes against the focus on simplicity. Recent conversations with Nutanix seem to indicate that they might move away from this new standalone license model. The feature itself, powered by Nutanix X-Fit, predicts future cluster consumption based on historical statistics. It’s a very interesting feature because although Nutanix makes most aspects of the HCI experience simple, there is a certain amount of “magic” or uncertainty when it comes to understanding usable capacity. This tool should be able to alert organizations well in advance before they have to buy new nodes and recommend specific nodes and configurations. 

Prism GUI Improvements

Nutanix added a few notable features to Prism, including Entity Explorer, intelligent keyword search, and customizable dashboards. Among many benefits, Entity Explorer allows users to understand links between software and hardware; for example, informing users of what disks a specific VM is scattered across. One of my biggest pet peeves is being unaware of where data is located, and Nutanix is addressing that with Entity Explorer. Intelligent keyword search offers Google-like functionality with auto complete, keyword suggestions, and instant results. Lastly, customizable dashboards deliver exactly as one would expect.

Other Items

There are a few other documented features including OpenStack Integration, Citrix plugin integration on AHV, improved MetroCluster functionality, self-service restore, and guest-VM ISCSI storage presentation. Although I have not formally reviewed these features, if they are anything like the many other features unveiled in the Nutanix Acropolis release, I’m sure they are guaranteed to deliver.

I’m excited to dig into these new feature upgrades from Nutanix in the AHEAD Lab and Briefing Center over the coming month. If you are interested in learning more about what Nutanix has to offer, schedule a time to meet with us in the AHEAD Lab and Briefing Center today!

AHEAD Lab and Briefing Center