What do you get when you combine four independent servers, lots of memory, standard SATA disks and SSD, 10Gb networking, and custom software in a single box? In this instance, the answer would be a Nutanix NX-3000. Pigeonholing the Nutanix product into a traditional category is another riddle altogether. While the company refers to each unit it sells as an "appliance," it really is a clustered combination of four individual servers and direct-attached storage that brings shared storage right into the box, eliminating the need for a back-end SAN or NAS.
I was recently given the opportunity to go hands on with a Nutanix NX-3000, the four nodes of which were running version 3.5.1 of the Nutanix operating system. It's important to point out that the Nutanix platform handles clustering and file replication independent of any hosted virtualization system. Thus, a Nutanix cluster will automatically handle node, disk, and network failures while providing I/O at the speed of local disk — and using local SSD to accelerate access to the most frequently used data. Nutanix systems support the VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V hypervisors, as well as KVM for Linux-based workloads.
Nutanix was founded by experienced data center architects and engineers from the likes of Google, Facebook, and Yahoo. That background brings with it a keen sense of what makes a good distributed system and what software pieces are necessary to build a scalable, high-performance product. A heavy dose of innovation and ingenuity shows up in a sophisticated set of distributed cluster management services, which eliminate any single point of failure, and in features like disk block fingerprinting, which leverages a special Intel instruction set (for computing an SHA-1 hash) to perform data deduplication and to ensure data integrity and redundancy.
A Nutanix cluster starts at one appliance (technically three nodes, allowing for the failure of one node) and scales out to any number of nodes. The NDFS (Nutanix Distributed File System) provides a single store for all of your VMs, handling all disk and I/O load balancing and eliminating the need to use virtualization platform features like VMware's Storage DRS. Otherwise, you manage your VMs no differently than you would on any other infrastructure, using VMware's or Microsoft's native management tools.
The hardware behind the NX-3000 comes from SuperMicro. Apart from the fact that it squeezes four dual-processor server blades inside one 2U box, it isn't anything special. All of the magic is in the software. Nutanix uses a combination of open source software, such as Apache Cassandra and ZooKeeper, plus a bevy of in-house developed tools. Nutanix built cluster configuration management services on ZooKeeper and heavily modified Cassandra for use as the primary object store for the cluster.
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