AWS KVM adoption and Nutanix AHV

Nutanix, which strives to bring the best of public cloud to the on-prem data center, has long incorporated AWS innovations as part of its enterprise cloud strategy. Nutanix diverged from the public cloud leader, though, in hypervisor selection and launched its own customized KVM hypervisor, AHV, almost two and a half years ago. AWS recently revealed an upcoming migration from Xen to KVM which, along with current utilization by Google Cloud Platform, brings added weight to the concept of KVM as cloud hypervisor standard.

AHV – The Enterprise Cloud Hypervisor

AHV is taking the enterprise by storm: As of the end of the 2017 fiscal year, 24% of Nutanix nodes were running its hypervisor. And it is not just customers who are embracing it: AHV is now supported by industry leaders such as SAP, Arista, Epic Hyperspace, Brocade, Commvault, Veeam, Veritas, and scores of others. Even Microsoft and Citrix, who both have their own hypervisors, support all of their products on AHV. Comtrade Software wrote its backup solution, HYCU, specifically for AHV.

When virtualization first became popular in the early 2000’s, infrastructure storage area network (SAN) services were required to enable vMotion and live migration. The hypervisors were necessarily complex in order to provide functionality that was only later off-loaded to “virtualization aware” storage, shifting that complexity to the storage system.  Nutanix  negated the need for complex hypervisors and virtualization aware storage by processing all of the data services where they belong – natively in the hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) storage layer. Nutanix built AHV to take advantage of HCI by dramatically simplifying KVM and integrating it into its Prism management, while also hardening the hypervisor to meet enterprise security requirements.

AHV is the only hypervisor purpose-built for hyperconverged infrastructure and a scale-out enterprise cloud using the same web-scale principals that power the distributed storage in Nutanix’s HCI offering. Add a Nutanix node to the cluster, and you’ve automatically extended the virtualization which is managed from the same Prism management plane. Should a node fail, the Acropolis Distributed Storage Fabric (ADSF) automatically self-heals for availability and impacted VMs are restarted on other nodes.

Nutanix eliminates complexity by natively integrating virtualization into its Enterprise Cloud OS. Virtualization is a feature and not a standalone product with independant management and required management extensions for analysis, automation and orchestration. A single management control plane is simple, highly available, and configured optimally with no need for architecting deployment and HA based on the environment and requirements.

AHV disrupts virtualization in the same way that Nutanix disrupted the SAN and NAS architecture of the virtualized datacenter. Engineers and architects who have tried AHV tend to be surprised by its ability to deliver the same type of “wow” factor they saw in the early days of virtualization. AHV impresses not just in its performance and functionality, but also in its simplicity, scalability, and resiliency.

And speaking of performance, AHV now can lay claim to having the lowest latency and highest single VM performance of any hypervisor running in HCI. Michael Webster shows in his post how a single VM achieved 1 million 8k random read IOPS and over 8 GB/sec throughput on AHV. The increasing adoption of new memory and storage technologies such as RDMA, NVMe and 3D XPoint will still further increase the performance delta between AHV and legacy virtualization.

Follow the Money

When it comes to enterprise IT, it is usually a safe bet that the technology delivering significantly more value will win out. This doesn’t necessarily mean lower up-front cost, but rather lower total cost of ownership and/or better enablement of business value.

For years, Microsoft claimed that Hyper-V was much lower cost than VMware. Microsoft shouted this messaging on its web site, in customer stories, in analyst reviews, in advertisements, in videos and in ROI tools. The Redmond giant, though, never made any real traction with Hyper-V until it abandoned its lower cost messaging and focused instead on the benefits virtualization enables. As a VMware partner, I used to tell customers that they’d feel pretty silly explaining to the Board that their virtualization environment was down the past two days – but they saved $67K on the hypervisor.

Fortunately, providing vastly superior value is where Nutanix AHV really shines. AHV is an enterprise-class virtualization solution included with the Acropolis hyperconverged infrastructure stack on all Nutanix software with no additional software components to purchase or  manage. Deployment, management and installation are a breeze and require no specialized virtualization skill sets, trainings or certifications. Upgrades are handled seamlessly as part of the renowned Nutanix “1-click” upgrades.

AHV also ships, as does all Nutanix software, with a secure and hardened configuration. Security configurations are based on US DOD Security Technology Implementation Guide (STIG) processes and standards. The Nutanix created STIG is not only applied by default, but is also programmatically checked for compliance and self-healing, allowing it to automatically restore to the hardened state should the configuration drift from policy. These advantages often enable  organizations to save millions of dollars a year in the labor costs required to harden legacy hypervisors. Combining these labor savings with licensing savings, slashed deployment, and reduced administration costs tends to provide an extremely compelling economic case.

Public Cloud Validation

The simplicity and low cost of Nutanix and AHV is increasingly resulting in customers using Nutanix software to virtualize the “last mile” of physical servers – typically database and similarly demanding servers that were considered too much trouble to virtualize in a 3-tier environment. Nutanix Xtract DB now allows the simple P2V of these database servers onto Nutanix AHV. There is no need for SANs, storage fabrics, storage experts, virtualization specialists or even virtualization software.

Despite the huge advantages of virtualization as feature of the infrastructure stack, many IT organizations face internal resistance to veering from their status quo hypervisor. VMware, in particular, has done a fantastic job in not only propagating its software across the globe, but in establishing a massive loyal following of virtualization administrators who leverage their VMware trainings and certifications as key elements of their careers.

Virtualization as part of the infrastructure stack frees up IT staff to focus on higher-value activities for the organization such as big data, analytics and DevOps. And if IT leaders require more ammunition to convince senior management of the benefit of embracing AHV, the AWS announcement should provide it. Together with Google Cloud, two of the three leading cloud providers utilize KVM. Enterprises can confidently adopt AHV as their enterprise cloud hypervisor – knowing that KVM is already winning in the much more demanding public cloud arena.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are mine and not necessarily those of Nutanix, Inc. or any of its other employees or affiliates.


See Also

Nutanix STIG’s for Automated Security & Compliance. 11/15/2017. Michael Webster.

Nutanix AOS 5.5 delivers 1M IOPS from a single VM, but what happens when you vMotion? 11/13/2017. Josh Odgers.

Nutanix AOS 5.5 delivers 1M read IOPS from a single VM, but what about 70/30 read/write? 11/14/2017. Josh Odgers.

What’s New in AHV Networking Part 4. 10/30/2017. Jason Burns. Nutanix Connect Blog.

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