Nutanix today announced its Complete Cluster, a high-performance hardware-plus-software solution that enables companies to virtualize their datacenters at a fraction of the cost of traditional server and SAN infrastructure. If this seems like going back to dedicated computers and attached storage, well, it is, somewhat.

But this isn’t your father’s SCSI drive. Nutanix has three key innovations. First is their distributed system software layer that converges computing tasks and storage into a single tier. Second, they specifically designed their hardware for virtualization, taking advantage of quick server creation, high availability and centralized management. Finally, the whole system is optimized from the ground up to make use of flash SSDs in its core architecture.

The company took their cues from the likes of Google and Facebook and how they designed their data centers to use cheap commodity hardware components that could easily be replaced when they fail. The difference between this configuration and just a rack of direct-attached storage on PCs is that there is a layer of software that shares this local storage across the network intelligently.

The smallest version of their solution is called a Complete Block, which is a 2U high server containing four x86 nodes. Each Complete Block contains 8 Intel Xeon processors and 192 GB RAM (upgradable to 768 GB) for running virtual machines along with 1.3 TB of Fusion-io, 1.2 TB of SATA SSD and 20TB of SATA drives for storing virtual machine data. Each Complete Block runs on a VMware hypervisor and can be managed centrally. You can scale these blocks quickly – several hundred of them is part of the design – and there is no single bottleneck such as you might find in a SAN host controller for example.

This smallest 2U configuration will run about $75,000. If you were to purchase a Dell or NetApp, you would probably pay twice that for an equivalently powered server. “We’ve done vBlock, but it’s more than twice the footprint of Nutanix and doesn’t enable plug and play expansion as one single system,” says Neil Ferguson, Technology Director for Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe, a top international law firm who is an early Netanix user.

Nutanix will be demonstrating its solution at the VMworld show in Vegas at the end of the month.

david strom