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Nutanix combines SDN, microsegmentation in Nutanix Flow

With the availability of Nutanix Flow, the HCI vendor merges SDN and microsegmentation to incorporate networking capabilities in its hyper-converged infrastructure stack.

Nutanix this week revealed a snippet of what's next for the company with its debut of Nutanix Flow, a product that further plunges the San Jose, Calif., hyper-converged player into the software-defined networking realm.

Nutanix Flow merges both networking and security with an application-centric approach. Applying analytics technology it acquired from monitoring and analytics company Netsil in March, Nutanix uses policy frameworks, application groupings and mapping capabilities to determine and build policies and microsegmentation, according to a Nutanix blog post from Nutanix's Mike Wronski and Abhishek Tiwari, principal product marketing manager and director of product management, respectively.

With Nutanix Flow, customers can incorporate microsegmentation without making any changes to existing network configuration, they wrote. Instead, Nutanix Flow automatically discovers applications and lets customers categorize them based on specific modifiers, like development, production or web servers, for example. The policies then apply to the designated categories as a whole, they added.

To further support SDN capabilities, Nutanix Flow allows customers to insert third-party partner network functions or use APIs with automated service chaining and insertion. Arista, Citrix, Lenovo, Mellanox, Plexxi and Brocade (recently acquired by Broadcom) all support Nutanix Flow as current partners.

Nutanix Flow is built into the vendor's hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) software stack, Acropolis. The goal of Acropolis is to combine compute, storage, networking and virtualization. Flow also works with Nutanix's existing management offering, Prism. But while Nutanix claims it has created the complete HCI package, Steven Hill, senior analyst of storage technologies at 451 Research, said Nutanix might fall a bit short.

"Virtualized networking like Flow is probably well-suited for managing data movement within the context of a cluster of HCI," Hill wrote in an email. "But I believe it really doesn't add much to improve overall network management for all systems across the enterprise."

Instead, Hill said he sees the move as a way to gain equal footing with VMware. Many Nutanix customers opt to run VMware, rather than Nutanix Acropolis, on Nutanix systems, which results in lost revenue for Nutanix, he said. By adding Nutanix Flow, Nutanix could perhaps retain some of those customers.

The use case for Nutanix Flow, however, depends on the customer's existing network environment, Hill said. A well-integrated SDN system could help optimize performance in remote and branch offices, he cited. But for network traffic outside more specific use cases, the system might be less effective, unless specifically configured to interact with the external networking hardware, Hill added. For now, he said Nutanix's challenge is to make its software stack simple and functional.

Nutanix Flow is available now for an annual subscription license with one- to five-year terms, according to Nutanix's website. Nutanix plans to expand Flow into the cloud to help customers operate in multi-cloud environments.

Nutanix announced Nutanix Flow during its 2018 .NEXT conference, in New Orleans this week.

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