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IT slowly embraces composable infrastructure

If there will be a way to make an enterprise data center as efficient and optimized as cloud computing, composable infrastructure seeks to fill that role.

The magic of composable infrastructure will be its cloud computing-like characteristics inside an enterprise data center, though that doesn't yet resonate with many IT pros.

The latest effort to make composable infrastructure the foundation of an easily managed hybrid cloud came recently when Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) added its OpenStack-based hybrid cloud platform, Helion CloudSystem 10, to Synergy, its composable infrastructure hardware product, which is a new server design that pools the compute, storage and network fabric to run hardware using service profile and APIs for bare-metal, virtual machine or Container workloads.

Adding CloudSystem to Synergy will simplify orchestration and improve how customers allocate resources dynamically, said Gina Longoria, an analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, an analyst firm in Austin, Texas. Combined with the HPE OneView management platform, IT pros can better use the on-premises IT resources of Synergy just like they use the public cloud -- and that could potentially be the key to its success, Longoria said.

Longoria said she thinks HPE has bet that people will change the way they consume IT based on their experience with the public cloud. "Without Helion, Synergy may be less relevant to a broad set of enterprise IT users," she said.  

Composable infrastructure takes management and orchestration and merges it with disaggregated hardware and fabric, she said. That creates a full system with a control plane tied to the hardware and data that can orchestrate and automate any way it wants to meet workload demands.

"That is the promise of where [composable infrastructure] is headed," said Brad Maltz, senior director of technology at Dell EMC, pointing out its top two benefits of efficiency and optimization.

One of the challenges is the term composable infrastructure itself. Even Cisco, which was one of the first to use the term widely, has distanced itself from the label, because it thinks customers may find it confusing and the technology overly complex, according to Todd Brannon, director of product marketing for unified computing at Cisco.

Cisco has pushed composability via its M-Series, but pulled back.

The company's latest product, S-Series Storage Servers, is part of a renewed effort to offer composable infrastructure by including modular components.

"You have to be able to disaggregate and put it back together, and that is exactly what we are doing with the S-Series system," Brannon said.

Dell EMC's composable infrastructure plan centers on RackHD, an open source project that can turn traditional servers into composable infrastructure, Dell EMC's Maltz said.

And in addition to Synergy, HPE has also moved composability into its hyper-converged infrastructure appliance HC380.

Value and usefulness key for composable infrastructure

Helping enterprise IT pros realize the usefulness and value of composable infrastructure while it's still early is a challenge for vendors, such as HPE, Cisco and Dell EMC.

IT pros don't know how to best consume composable infrastructure, because it seems too new and weird to them, Maltz said.

"It will be like the way VMware was for the first three to four years," Maltz said. "Real consumption of it in a cost-effective way, I would probably see that out in the 2019 to 2020 time frame."

Roughly 100 customers have Synergy in-house today, and it won't be generally available (GA) until January, according to HPE. Nevertheless, some IT pros doubt composable infrastructure technology will make it into the enterprise for years, and it will likely be beaten by the move to public cloud.

Robert Swanson, system administrator for the library system at University of Connecticut in Storrs, Conn., said he thinks composable infrastructure may first appear in the data centers of well-funded and cutting-edge organizations, and it may be in use within two years for some companies. But he predicted it will be closer to 10 years for others.

"[Composable infrastructure] has to be GA, and it will have had to be GA for a while, because when it comes out, it will be expensive," he said.

The idea of composability captured the attention of Charles O'Brien, manager of data center operations at a weather forecasting company in Andover, Mass. "You press a button, move a slidey bar and call an API and give the [internal] customer the bill," he said at a recent Virtualization Technology User Group event near Boston.

That's attractive in the same way that virtualization was attractive, offering the ability to spin up new resources as needed instead of buying and waiting for new server hardware. On top of that, the granularity of resources could possibly exceed even what can be found on Amazon Web Services.

Robert Gates covers data centers, data center strategies, server technologies, converged and hyper-converged infrastructure and open source operating systems for SearchDataCenter. Follow him on Twitter @RBGatesTT or email him at [email protected].

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