I was at Nutanix .NEXT 2019 last week in Anaheim, CA and one of the main attractions was Nutanix Xi Frame. Let’s dive in to this new solution and see what Xi Frame has under the hood.

What is Nutanix Xi Frame?

Initially named Mainframe2, Nutanix Xi Frame is a cloud-native and browser-native Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) solution. The company Frame was acquired by Nutanix in August 2018 in an effort to disrupt the EUC industry. Frame’s former CEO & Founder, Nikola Bozinovic and former Field CTO Ruben Spruijt (among others) are leading the way behind the scenes as they look to disrupt yet another layer of the enterprise stack.

 

Nutanix says its teams are working hard to make it easy for people who are not VDI experts to build virtual desktops. The company wants customers to leverage a cloud control plane that is built to move faster, with many 1-click actions (I’ll share later in this article that they are doing an excellent job with that).

At first, Frame was built on Amazon AWS, but later opened to Microsoft Azure and Nutanix Xi Cloud after its acquisition by Nutanix. Last year, they mentioned Google Cloud Platform integration was in the works, and I was able to confirm that Google is listed in the cloud providers (as early access) to host Frame workloads. GPUs are only available in specific locations with AWS, GCP and Microsoft Azure at this time.

In terms of number of templates, AWS has the most available to date, which makes sense because Frame started there.

See below for Amazon:

Azure:

And Google Cloud Platform:

 

Templates are pre-configured with Frame agent and all drivers needed (nVidia drivers were installed for the M60 Tesla GPU).

Note: You can also bring your own images if you connect your own Cloud account.

Xi Frame now supports AHV workloads located on-premises

Last week, Nutanix announced that Xi Frame now supports hybrid workloads located on-premises. That means that you can use the Frame cloud services with your own workloads hosted on your own infrastructure.

Only Acropolis hypervisor (AHV) is supported at this time by Nutanix. No surprise there, as it makes sense for Nutanix to support its own hypervisor first. Hopefully VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix hypervisors will be added in the supported list very soon.

It is fairly easy to setup. Download the Frame Cloud Connector appliance (500MB) from Nutanix website, create a virtual machine hosted on AHV and attach that ISO file. Boot the virtual machine and connect the appliance to your Prism Central infrastructure.

Your local AHV infrastructure will be available alongside the cloud providers and you will be able to perform the same actions. Easy!

What is the goal of Nutanix with Xi Frame?

The official plan for Nutanix is to use Frame to target small and medium DaaS customers; and for large-scale VDI deployments, they’ll continue their support of Citrix and VMware solutions.

However, it is hard to miss the tension between Nutanix and VMware, and I would not be surprised if Nutanix tries to get some VMware View customers to move to Frame at the same time as they move to AHV. The reality is that many current VMware customers are considering AHV, and that it would be easy to lure them to Frame with some free licenses.

Keep in mind that the adoption of AHV is rising. Nutanix announced at the .NEXT conference that 40% of its customers have adopted AHV.

Citrix, on the other hand, seems to have a much better relationship with Nutanix. They are both supporting each other’s products, and often engage on amicable social media exchanges. One thing that caught my attention at .NEXT 2019 was the total absence of Citrix. Citrix did not have a booth and was not sponsoring the event. Citrix was only mentioned once during the whole show, and even then, Nutanix used the wrong name (XenDesktop instead of Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops).

Things could start to be a little awkward if Nutanix (with Frame) starts to dig into part of cake owned by Citrix. But ultimately, competition is good for the customers, and I believe this will help thriving innovation. Of course, there will always be some resistance to change, but I am confident that many of us will embrace the arrival of Nutanix in the EUC industry.

 

We will probably have more insights at Citrix Synergy at the end of the month. Nutanix is usually a big sponsor of the conference and their attitude could tell us a lot.

How is Xi Frame compared to Citrix Workspace?

At the .NEXT, Nutanix did not spend too much time talking about Frame enterprise features because they know that they cannot be compared with Citrix Workspace at this time.

A quick look at Xi Frame and you can see that it does not support the following:

  • USB, drives, printers, content & URL redirection
  • True Multi-monitor (right now you need to have 2 tabs open in your browser and to switch between them you need to first click on the tab you want to have to focus on)
  • SaaS apps
  • Publish apps and desktops on the same launchpad?!
  • Session Manager
  • Enterprise features such as Session Recording, 2FA, etc
  • No desktop/mobile client
  • And much more.

XI Frame is browser-based, so it is limited by internet browser capabilities. Nutanix is rumored to be working on a desktop client (Nutanix Receiver?) to work around these limitations.

At this time, Nutanix Xi Frame cannot compete with Citrix until they have a real desktop and mobile client that supports true multi-monitor, USB and drives redirection, etc.

On the other hand, they have an easy-to-use control plane, a great HTML5 rendering engine compatible with pretty much all browsers available on desktop and mobile, and significant performances with heavy graphic and video applications that need GPU resources.

Performances

Speaking of performances, I picked the first option available with a GPU in Azure with Frame (56GB of RAM, 4vCPU, 1GPU).

Quickly, I noticed that Frame was unable to keep up with my 4K monitor and was capped down to 2560px per 1400px.

I tried multiple high resolution videos from youtube without being able to notice any drop in the frame rate.

Note: you need to go in the settings and increase the maximum frame rate because by default it is limited to 20.

See below John Wick trailer.

And Avengers trailer:

Up to 50 FPS.

Nutanix has a lot of promotional videos with business applications such as Autodesk to show how well Frame is performing with GPU. I am not gonna do that here. To push Frame to its limit, I had the idea of playing video games in my virtual machine hosted in Azure with Xi Frame.

So I installed Steam and i was able to play (for real) Tomb Raider with Frame. See below:

That’s not a video, but real-time gameplay from Tomb Raider. No lags. Impressive. To be fair, it is not the best to play a game in a browser because I was often losing focus in the tab when moving my pointer.

The bottom line is that Frame offers excellent performances with GPU. However, this comes at a price. Probably not the most cost-effective way to play video games.

I need to spend more time testing bandwidth consumption and how Frame deals with high latency connection and slow networks. Citrix HDX/ICA is a word class protocol reputed for his ability to get better network throughput over high latency connections. I don’t know if Frame can reach that level yet.

Some cool features of Nutanix Xi Frame

Copy paste

I like the way copy paste is build into Xi Frame.

Note: all files you drag-and-drop in the browser will be available in the Uploads folder.

Actions (similar to Desktop Viewer).

Session Manager

I also like how you can easily manage your session from the launchpad.

I had few hiccups with my sessions during my testing and it was really handy to have this feature directly on the website.

 

Getting started with Nutanix Xi Frame

If you are interested to know how to setup Xi Frame. Go to my.nutanix.com and logon with your credentials.

Select Xi Frame.

Select the type of infrastructure (Ex: Xi Cloud)

Select the payment plan. Here: Pay As You Go.

Enter the number of users (minimum 5).

Enter your address and credit card information.

Review and confirm the configuration.

Done. That was easy?!

Select Proceed to Xi Frame.

Accept the license.

Select Organization.

Create a new organization.

Next step is to create an account.

Accounts are similar to Machine Catatlogs in Citrix.

Select Azure and EAST US2. 

Select the template (Ex: Pro 56GB with 1 GPU).

Check Persistent Desktop (early access) to have a dedicated desktop.

Then Frame will proceed with the creation.

Back on the account screen, you can see the configuration previously created.

Then go to the Sandbox and wait.

Around 15 mins. 

In the meantime, you can go setup a launchpad. This is similar to Web Interface with Citrix.

Configure the launchpad and validate. Go back to Sandbox.

The sandbox is like a golden image. You can install software on it if needed. Here we don’t need to install anything.

Configure the maximum number of users.

Click publish and confirm.

Wait up to 5mins.

When the desktop is published, go to the launchpad.

Click on the desktop icon to start the session.

The session is open.

Done. Easy right? less than 1h to create the whole thing.

Configure Nutanix Frame Xi

A lot of options are available to configure your user experience.

You can configure the timezone.

Configure the network settings.

Specific the time limits.

Enable or Disable features (including Copy paste, Download and Upload).

Set up storage integration.

How is the support?

I was lucky enough to get direct some support from Ruben this first time around, but obviously that’s an exception, not a rule, in terms of support. So I decided to open a ticket using the regular workflow (my.nutanix.com).

My ticket was resolved in less than 1 hour. It’s worth noting that the person in charge of my ticket had no clue about Frame and had to follow-up with the Frame team. It seems that at this time, support tickets are not reaching Frame team directly.

About community support, there is not much available right now. I haven’t seen a lot of articles or posts on forums about Xi Frame.

Final thoughts

All in all, I am impressed with what Xi Frame has to offer. At first use, it’s pretty awesome, but it has a long way to go. That said, it would be easy and straightforward for smaller companies to purchase Frame, because it doesn’t take long to set up (roughly an hour). There’s really not much else on the market right now that’s that easy to set up.

While it’s not yet at a level to compete directly with Citrix, I’m optimistic that Nutanix will continue to invest in developing Xi Frame’s already promising features.

Compatible with the major cloud providers, Frame is only available on AHV on-premises. I hope that Nutanix will continue to expand it supported hypervisors list in the future.

Want to try Nutanix Frame? Go to http://nutanix.com/frame.