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Just what the heck is composable infrastructure, anyway?

GaryThome

What is Composable Infrastructure?

If you’ve read any industry blogs or articles lately, chances are you’ve come across the term. So what exactly is composability?  Why do we need it? Is this the same thing as Converged Infrastructure? I get these kinds of questions often, as do many of my colleagues. I think they’re important questions, and in fact, a lot of folks in the industry are asking the same things.

Let me help to explain. There are four different categories of infrastructure that I’d like to discuss in this post: traditional, converged, hyper-converged, and composable. Since they form a historical sequence, let’s start at the beginning and work our way up to the present with a definition of each category, and a look at its benefits and limitations.

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1. Traditional infrastructure

Definition: Traditional infrastructure is defined as servers, storage, and networking switches. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and you can combine them to optimize for a particular workload. 

Benefits: Your data center was, at least at one time, built on traditional infrastructure, as that’s where the industry started. It’s very flexible in running different types of applications. It’s probably what you and your team are used to working with (which can make it difficult to progress to the next stage).

2.pngLimitations: The challenge is that traditional infrastructures tend to be very cumbersome to deploy and manage. Because compute, storage and network run on different platforms, they create many physical islands of highly underutilized resources. The management tools don’t cross those divides, so they also create silos of management, which make it extremely difficult for server, storage and networking admins to work efficiently.

IT leaders complained that this was just too complex. So the industry set out to do things better. Converged infrastructure and hyper-converged Infrastructure both have started on the journey of making IT infrastructure simpler to buy, easier to operate, and faster to consume. But both have come with compromises

2. Converged Infrastructure

Definition: Converged infrastructures bring together compute, storage, and networking into a single solution for a particular workload or solution area, such as virtualization or database.

Benefits: This simplifies the purchase and can potentially make the infrastructure faster to consume for the application it’s designed for. Convergence also can reduce the data center’s power and space footprint.

Limitations: While converged infrastructure does have some benefits, it achieves them at the expense of creating a management island surrounding it – in this case, though, it’s an island that’s created around workloads rather than hardware. Furthermore, the management of the servers, storage, and networking is often still done largely in silos, even when the equipment physically integrates them.

3. Hyper-converged infrastructure

Definition: Hyper-converged systems bring together compute, storage and networking together into a single solution.

Benefits: Can be very easy-to-consume infrastructure capacity.

Limitations: Hyper-converged infrastructure supports virtual workloads that do not require connectivity to SANs. Physical and SAN attached applications require a different infrastructure.  As a result, hyper-convergence creates a management silo around these systems.

While both converged and hyper-converged approaches have merit, they fall short of the ultimate goal: a single platform with a single operational model for all workloads. In order to make this a reality, the platform must have hardware that can support a broad range of physical and virtual workloads and be configurable through a software-defined approach to match the needs of a given application or workload. This is the rationale for composable infrastructure.

4. Composable Infrastructure

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Definition: Composable infrastructure brings together compute, storage, and network fabric into one platform, similar to a converged or hyper-converged infrastructure. It also integrates a software-defined intelligence and a unified API to “compose” these fluid resource pools.

Benefit: Rather than being pre-configured for a single workload like a converged or hyper-converged infrastructure, composable infrastructure is customer re-configurable, through a software-defined intelligence, to become whatever is needed. In this sense, composable infrastructure is actually the opposite of converged infrastructure.  As the “converged” part of the name implies, converged infrastructure is the result of configuration that’s done in the past – before it arrives at a customer site.  In contrast, composable infrastructure enables businesses to easily create the infrastructure they need when they need it – enabling the fast reflexes that they need to thrive in a highly competitive environment.

Composable infrastructure is the next evolution in data center computing because it enables IT organizations to create the infrastructure they need with incredible velocity, and it does so while reducing the operational cost and complexity of traditional silo approaches. It’s ideal for traditional workloads and environments, as well as newer cloud and mobile apps. Think of it as your infrastructure as code.

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We have lots of great references to help you learn more about composable infrastructure. Here’s a useful overview: HPE Composable Infrastructure – Bridging Traditional IT with the Idea Economy

HPE Composable Infrastructure whitepaper.png

Other resources:

#Composable

Gary

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About the Author

GaryThome

Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for the Software-Defined and Cloud Group at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, passionate on all things technology, operating in the data center either physically or virtually.

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