What Makes Infrastructure ‘Composable’?

    The IT vendor community has been talking up the idea of “composable infrastructure” lately, but as with most technology initiatives, there is a fine line between a bold new direction and simply a new name for an old concept.

    As the name implies, composable infrastructure offers the ability to create highly specialized data environments dynamically and automatically. But exactly how this differs from current methods of layering virtualized architecture on top of commodity, white-box hardware is a little fuzzy. The key question most enterprises need to ask is whether the composable platform under consideration satisfies the requirements of emerging data strategies in ways that existing technologies cannot.

    HPE is probably the leading champion of composable infrastructure with its Synergy platform. The company bills it as a means to deploy infrastructure as code to enable fluid pools of compute, storage and networking that can be configured to suit any application. The system was recently integrated into VMware’s Cloud Foundation platform to simplify app deployment on private clouds. In fact, the companies say it has been able to reduce the process to only a few minutes with just a few simple mouse clicks, which would both improve performance and lower the cost compared to public clouds.

    The open-source OpenStack cloud platform is also turning its attention to composable infrastructure. The new Pike version of the software places a premium on scale, management and multi-vendor integration of composable environments in support of private-cloud-as-a-service and other delivery models. The system uses a new version of the Nova Cells architecture that allows enterprises to horizontally partition, or “shard,” their database deployments for improved scale and reliability. It also features upgrades to the Ironic bare metal service, such as a plug-in to the Neutron networking system for improved multi-tenancy and support for rolling upgrades to incorporate new code without disrupting service.

    Independent software developers are getting in on the act as well. A company called DriveScale is out with its Software Composable Infrastructure (SCI) system, recently upgraded with new features like encryption of data at rest and in transit, as well as data disposition and shredding. In this way, enterprise admins can maintain control over workloads even after the virtual cluster that housed them has been decommissioned and its resources returned to the availability pool. In addition to maintaining high resource utilization, the company claims these services enhance compliance and data privacy.

    The obvious question, of course, is what differentiates these platforms from those claiming to provide software-defined data centers (SDDCs) or plain, old virtualized infrastructure, asks IT consultant Trevor Potts. Once everything is virtual, why can’t IT techs simply compose the infrastructure of their choice through existing user interfaces? In a nutshell, the difference is that composable infrastructure is intended to be repeatable; that is, once a particular infrastructure has been defined, it can be rebuilt in whole or in part on bare metal wherever and whenever it is needed. In this way, true composable infrastructure provides resiliency against failure and is highly amenable to automation, given that it codifies clearly defined steps that can be executed over and over.

    Composable infrastructure will certainly be a boon to core data center management, but it should really shine on the IoT edge where largely unmanned microcenters will become increasingly responsible for the high-speed, often complex workloads coming in from legions of connected devices. With a centrally managed distributed data environment on the edge, organizations stand a better chance of providing the level of interaction the users demand without overwhelming data resources or the people who manage them.

    As Potts noted in his essay: “Data is sacrosanct. Everything else is composable.”

    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.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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