Nutanix unveils proof-of-concept drone at .NEXT event

Nutanix sees the drone as an extension of its core webscale philosophy of using software on commodity hardware to make it much more extensible. Down the line, they see this as having application to use cases which will interest channel partners.

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The Acropolis 1 drone

LAS VEGAS – At its annual .NEXT customer event here last week, Nutanix unveiled its upcoming 4.7 software release, its slightly longer term Asterix software release – and a drone.

Drones are best known, of course, for their military uses, but the Nutanix one isn’t designed to blast terrorists – or even competitor factories!

“It’s a proof of concept to indicate that we can develop applications on a drone while it’s being controlled autonomously,” said Richard Arsenian a Solution Architect on Nutanix’s NPX team. “A proof-of-concept like this helps us to understand the drone business. There are potential use cases ranging from the military, to search and rescue, to geographical surveying. In the future, they may be applicable to the mobile data centre.”

Arsenian personally piloted the drone project – named Acropolis 1 – as an R&D effort, sponsored directly by Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey. Arsenian emphasized that the drone isn’t a toy, and is, in fact, a perfectly logical extension of Nutanix’s core business.

“The whole premise of Nutanix has been the webscale principle – taking commodity hardware and overlaying a software solution on it to provide great extensibility,” he said. “That is what we are doing here.”

The heart of the Nutanix drone is the Nutanix Community edition of its software, together with the Intel NUC small form factor PC.

“This really opens up a world of possibilities, and is based on the concept of a data centre in a box,” Arsenian said. “Drones are designed to do one thing and one thing only. They are very fixated devices. What if you could take the control plane and have it virtualized within the Community Edition software?

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The Acropolis 1, under the hood

“The drone allows the Intel NUC running our Community Edition to autonomously control from anywhere with 4G connectivity,” Arsenian continued. “The virtual machine controlling the drone also allows us to use USB based peripherals, processing data in real time on a drone, without having to replicate it to a data centre for processing. So it is taking the server workload and moving it closer to the client.”

The drone also runs OpenStack.

“This allows it to provision apps on demand depending where drone may be at any point in time,” Arsenian said.

The choice of the Community Edition for the project was driven by its minimalist requirements. The Community edition has a maximum of four nodes, but no minimum.

“We don’t need that minimum of three nodes for the Community Edition,” Arsenian said. “That’s the most important reason why we chose it.”

The data is fully FIPS 140 protected. The device has two batteries – one to power the NUC and the other to power the propellers. There is also a router under the NUC.

Arsenian stressed that while the drone won’t have commercial application any time soon, that may not always be the case.

“Nutanix is always innovative,” he said. “A lot of software vendors are focused on one solution for the data centre, but we are pushing the boundaries here. In an industry vertical like the drone industry, we are taking our software and building a platform on a consumer grade drone. That’s where the channel starts getting excited.”