Composable Infrastructure and the Hybrid Cloud

Arthur Cole

The enterprise data center is getting smaller, but data loads are getting bigger. This puts traditional platform vendors under the gun to revamp their offerings to meet the new reality or risk being left behind.

But this is not easy to do. Move too quickly and you risk getting ahead of the market that still has a vested interest in doing things the old way. Move too slowly and you risk losing market share to the up-and-comers who are crafting new business models around emerging technologies.

And when we are talking about a company like HPE, failure to navigate these shoals properly can have broad ramifications across the entire IT industry.

The company announced this week that it is shelling out more than $1 billion for Nimble Storage, a Flash technology innovator that was one of the pioneers of predictive storage and converged infrastructure. It’s worth noting that this comes less than a month after HPE bought converged appliance maker Simplivity for $650 million. Both moves can be seen as an attempt to shore up HPE’s prowess in hyperconverged systems, which is the linchpin of the broader “composable infrastructure” model that itself is intended to support the hybrid cloud architectures that allow the enterprise to leverage emerging and legacy infrastructure.


HPE’s composable infrastructure platform, Synergy, was recently updated with a new version of the Helion CloudSystem management stack, which makes it easier to support traditional and cloud-native applications from the same interface. This is crucial in the effort to federate data infrastructure across distributed architectures because it overcomes the numerous vagaries that exist between local and cloud-based performance characteristics. But more importantly, it allows organizations to establish scalable on-premises infrastructure quickly and easily, supplemented by the predictive analytics and high-speed performance of Nimble’s Flash storage technology.

Given the competitive nature of today’s IT infrastructure market, HPE (as well as Cisco, Dell-EMC and other traditional vendors) have no choice but to consolidate their big box platforms and re-invent themselves as cloud-facing systems specialists. HPE’s first quarter sales saw a 10 percent drop, with the crucial Enterprise Group seeing a 12 percent drop overall and drops in servers and storage of 12 and 13 percent, respectively. Much of this can be attributed to the enterprise’s increasing reliance on hyperscale cloud providers like Amazon and Google, which utilize white-box, commodity hardware to support their homegrown data architectures. For their own internal data centers, however, most enterprises lack the buying clout to significantly reduce their hardware spend through white-box deployments, so they will most likely turn to traditional vendors and channel partners who can not only provide composable infrastructure but help configure and manage it as well.

The other option, of course, is to craft a customized data environment using the various open platforms that have emerged around hybrid infrastructure. Solutions like OpenStack and the Open Compute Platform aim to provide the framework on which interoperable cloud environments can be built, but it takes a fair amount of in-house expertise to operate an open environment, and the communities that oversee development are not always in agreement as to how the environment should evolve.

One thing seems clear: Today’s big-platform, silo-based data infrastructure is on the way out and will be replaced by streamlined, integrated hardware appliances supporting a range of software-defined hybrid data architectures. In this way, management of infrastructure will become dramatically easier, but management of virtual- and application-layer resources will rise as the new challenge for IT.

For today’s IT vendor, this represents a whole new playing field for the development of infrastructure that will support the new digital economy.

Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.


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