One year since the acquisition, how has Nutanix Xi Frame progressed?

The DaaS market is getting hot, and that means more competition for players that had an early lead.

Last summer, Nutanix acquired Frame, one of the most innovative and promising of the DaaS start-ups, which had established an early and strong presence in delivering cloud graphics and CAD applications for ISVs such as Autodesk, SolidWorks, Ansys, PTC, and other businesses with an on-any-device via a browser message.

Now, over a year later, we caught up with Nikola Bozinovic, Frame’s former CEO and founder and GM of Desktop Services at Nutanix, and Ruben Spruijt (Frame's former CTO and Sr. Technologist at Nutanix) to see how Frame’s integration has progressed. Customers now have many options for cloud desktops, not the least of which is Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD). Will Nutanix focus on Frame’s original markets with users of Autodesk products and Solidworks? Or, will they integrate and develop Frame closer to deliver a more generic VDI offering to compete with the likes of Citrix/VMware and Microsoft?

Frame was very much a service for customers interested in remoting applications that also wanted a remote desktop but didn’t want to know about the VDI infrastructure. That is, in many ways, what Citrix and VMware are now attempting to offer via their cloud services. By focusing on delivery via the browser, Frame was able to leverage the broad compatibility, graphics optimizations, and endpoint support browsers support. That of course doesn’t have to be CAD/3-D apps, it could be any Windows application—standalone, client-server, graphic/GPU intensive, CPU intensive.

Recent Frame announcements / developments

Support for Google Cloud Platform (GCP) went GA in November. Nikola commented that there’s a particularly strong demand amongst a type of customer committing strongly to large-scale deployments of Chromebooks and G Suite for whom consolidating with Google on GCP makes a lot of sense, particularly in local government and education. Frame had long supported AWS and Azure as well as their own Xi Cloud, so strategically it’s not a game changer, although it’s an indicator Nutanix are committed to expanding the product.

Nutanix Xi Government Cloud have been working their way through the FedRAMP designation process reaching “FedRAMP Ready” status back in 2018, a certification which would open them up to not just U.S. government customers but their contractor ecosystems and a whole load of high-end enterprise customers that handle large federal contracts. Nikola said that as of August 2019 this has progressed to “FedRAMP in progress” status. Whilst Nikola couldn’t personally comment on when final certification status could be granted, this is the final part of what is a lengthy process and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to speculate that this Xi Frame cloud could be granted full FedRAMP status as soon as early 2020.

FedRAMP is a costly, lengthy, and highly audited process for managed cloud services. It’s also a nice reassurance for all of Nutanix’s customers, because it means behind the scenes a company has to have its product, quality, and security processes in good order. Nutanix Xi Government Cloud comprises of Xi Frame, as the DaaS platform, operated and managed on U.S. AWS and Azure Government regions. FedRAMP is a certification that only applies to completely managed cloud services so does not apply to other products. There’s certainly a large federal market for CAD/3-D DaaS but a much larger one for generic Windows / office desktops. With products like Citrix Government Cloud and VMware vCloud playing in the FedRAMP space, Nutanix’s Frame enabled offering introduces more competition but is entering a competitive market.

Probably one of the biggest announcements around Frame this year was the announcement of Xi Frame for on premises. Frame’s cloud service model didn’t quite align with some of Nutanix’s enterprise customer base, which are firmly wedded to an on-premises model. This closed the gap, leaving Frame as a cloud-based control plane, with users having the option to run VMs on a public cloud, private cloud, or on premises on Nutanix HCI and appliances (based on AHV). This is taking Frame beyond the service-based DaaS model into traditional VDI territory where the customer is involved in managing, maintaining, and even owning their own VDI infrastructure, the enterprise VDI turf of Citrix/VMware.

There have been some new “enterprise” features added / bought in; Nutanix entered into a partnership with Liquidware to integrate Profile Container 'ProfileDisk' technology into Xi Frame. To an end user, this means that when you set up a Frame account to manage non-persistent desktops as an admin, you are given an option to “enable user profiles,” a simple one-click action. Under the hood, this supports domain or non-domain joined desktops and sorts out all the base image management and user customization, e.g., wallpaper, outlook, etc. for the admin. This is included within subscriptions under the Frame Enterprise Profile; customers could alternatively use (and if applicable, pay for) options such as FSLogix, Ivanti, Microsoft GPO/GPP, roaming profiles, or other third-party management solutions.

Ruben commented:

I do see Nutanix Frame leveraging more on-premises and enterprise functionality such as support of larger Nutanix solutions starting with AHV, our built-in virtualization platform, but also Flow (network security), Files (scale-out file services build-into the solution). We have many features enterprises require, such as solutions to solve user profile issues, cloud storage integration such as OneDrive, Classic Active Directory integration, enterprise networking scenarios (private networking, streaming gateway service and more). We also have strong APIs to run applications headless and automate the platform via the admin API. “

He also added that all features are included as part of a Frame subscription (named or concurrent user options available) and they have avoided tiered licensing where certain enterprise features are only available for a premium fee. VDI features included as part of Nutanix Frame platform include Networking integration, Identity integration, User Profile Disk, Cloud Storage integration, image management, capacity management, Analytics, APIs, Session Policies, Quality of Service, and Classic Active Directory integration.

It's a reasonable VDI offering now, and if the price point is right, it could well suit some of VMware/Citrix’s traditional user base.

A few years ago, you’d hear Nutanix grouped with vendors such as Atlantis and that definitely doesn’t make sense anymore. The acquisitions and stack additions have been integrated well and it’s a compelling offering. In VDI and DaaS at least, Nutanix could be considered a decent alternative to VMware and Citrix, especially as they have the additional hardware expertise and HCI offerings. It’s interesting to note vendors such as third-party protocol vendor Teradici (PCoIP) have added support for Nutanix AHV alongside VMWare ESXi and a handful of other first-tier hypervisors and cloud platforms.

Customers wanting to build an EUC strategy, though, often need more than DaaS alone. Aside from virtual apps and desktops, EUC today often has to comprehensively cover physical PCs, mobile devices, SaaS apps, and identity and access management. I can’t see those high-end customers, especially if already committed to a vendor, compelled to move to a Frame solution. However, Nutanix have always had a particularly attractive offering for organizations with 500 to 2,000 VDI users, the type of organizations that have 100 to 200 users on a 2u server, and many of those organizations aren’t looking for a universal EUC solution, the VDI needs are primary. The public spats between a few VMware and Nutanix execs suggest VMware are taking Nutanix’s presence seriously. Ruben hinted they had several large enterprises currently evaluating Frame, but of course no names were shared. 

The Xi Frame offering seems appealing for smaller users or organizations trying VDI for the first time, starting with 20 to 50 users purely on Xi Frame Cloud. Without having to commit to hardware, even with complex domain and networking, an organization can be up and running in a day or so. There are, however, also a clutch of other VDI/ DaaS control planes focused on simplifying VDI deployment and management; focused on the control plane aspect and deploying on commodity clouds (e.g., AWS/Azure/GCP) using mainstream protocols e.g., Microsoft’s RDP and with Windows WVD options;  and products/services such as CloudJumper and WorkSpot.

Wrap up

Overall Frame is now involved in some very crowded markets where it’s a pretty good option but there are other good options. The product's strength still seems to lie in its roots in managed Cloud Services, though. Nutanix’s product is much clearer than the EUC vendors cloud services which in many ways appear (and probably are) VDI retro-fitted/bodged on top of Cloud. The on-premises VDI options will probably suit a niche of existing VDI users if the price is right but getting significant customers onto managed cloud services is probably where Nutanix has the potential to take Citrix/VMware business. With Microsoft WVD coming into play, too, it’s likely to become quite a feisty market over the next year.  

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