Composable infrastructure – are you ready?

With ‘composable infrastructure’ now joining the industry vernacular, Gordon Grosse, Head of Technical Services at MCSA Group, examines what’s behind the hype, is it needed - and how does it move the game on from traditional infrastructure? 

When it’s time for that IT upgrade, composable systems may offer organisations the capability to reshape their infrastructure requirements. With four different categories of infrastructure: traditional, converged, hyper-converged and now – composable, forming a historical sequence - I’ll examine the pros and cons of each - and why it might be time to take action.  

1. Traditional infrastructure 

This traditional set up typically consists of servers, storage and networking switches - that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – and can be combined to optimise a particular workload. The main advantages are that most data centres were originally built on this infrastructure type - so it’s very flexible in running different types of applications.  

The main disadvantages are that traditional infrastructures tend to be cumbersome to deploy and manage. This is because as compute, storage and network run on different platforms, they create many physical islands of highly under-utilised resources. With management tools not usually crossing those divides, they also create silos of management effort. This makes it extremely difficult for server, storage and networking teams - to work efficiently.  

2. Converged infrastructure 

With traditional infrastructures deemed as becoming too complex, the industry set out to do things better by combining compute, storage and networking into a single solution, for a particular workload or solution area.   

The key advantages with converged infrastructure is that it started on the journey to make IT infrastructure simpler to buy, easier to operate and faster to consume. The ultimate goal is to minimise compatibility issues between servers, storage systems and network devices – so it costs less to operate. Convergence also aims to reduce the data centre’s power and space footprint. 

The main disadvantages are that this infrastructure achieves its benefits at the expense of creating additional, siloed management of servers, storage and networking - even when the equipment should physically integrate them. An organisation is essentially putting all its eggs in one basket - if the network has a problem, the impact is felt everywhere.   

3. Hyper-converged infrastructure 

Hyper-converged systems promise to combine compute, storage and networking in a single solution – where infrastructure capacity can be easily consumed. The main advantages are derived from the integration of server, storage, networking and hypervisor being pre-built and tested to minimise compatibility issues. The main disadvantages are that 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 - namely 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. These requirements have created the rationale behind composable infrastructure.  

4. Composable infrastructure 

Like converged or hyper-converged infrastructure, composable infrastructure is the next evolution in data centre computing that attempts to consolidate compute, storage and network fabric into one platform. It also integrates a software-defined intelligence and a unified API to “compose” these fluid resource pools.  

The main advantages are rather than being pre-configured for a single workload like a converged or hyper-converged infrastructure, composable infrastructure is user 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 promises to enable businesses to easily and swiftly create the infrastructure they need - when they need it. It does so, whilst also reducing the operational cost and complexity of traditional silo approaches. It should be useful when dealing with traditional workloads and environments, as well as newer cloud and mobile apps. Think of it as a type of infrastructure as code. 

Ten reasons to fast forward:

Cloud-like speed - Composable infrastructure enables DevOps teams to spin up new services in minutes to get new experiences into users’ hands faster, delivering cloud-like speed from a secure data centre. 

Single platform - Traditional applications and cloud-native apps can be run from a single platform that supports everything from bare-metal deployment to virtual machines and containers. This allows IT to align behind a single platform to reduce data centre complexity and cost. 

Fluid IT - Application development can be accelerated by giving DevOps teams more control over their environments. Fluid resource pools allow developers to execute non-disruptive changes and to continuously refine applications to meet customer needs as they arise. 

Competitive advantages - Bridging the performance and control of dedicated infrastructure with the flexibility of the cloud allows lines-of-business to accelerate delivery of new customer experiences and revenue opportunities to stay ahead of the competition. 

Software-defined - Intelligent software recognises and automatically integrates compute, storage, and fabric into resource pools that can be aggregated and disaggregated to meet the needs of any application. Template-driven provisioning helps ensure policy compliance and reduces risk exposure. 

On-going development - Developers can request exactly the amount of compute, storage, and networking fabric their applications need, directly from code. The unified API aggregates physical resources just like virtual and public-cloud resources, giving developers true infrastructure-as-code capabilities. 

Operational efficiency - The need to stand up separate siloed environments for different applications can be removed. Automated provisioning via templates and a unified API enables application infrastructure provisioning in minutes - instead of days, bringing cloud-like efficiency to the data centre. 

IT economics - Template-driven provisioning and non-disruptive updates mean IT spends less time maintaining infrastructure, reducing labour costs. Fluid pools of resources that can be aggregated on demand increase utilisation and reduce over-provisioning and stranded capacity. 

Future-proofed data centre - A scalable and extendable infrastructure and robust partner ecosystem, provides a firm foundation for today’s hybrid IT - and the capacity and flexibility to cater for future innovations. 

Seamless evolution - Starting with as little as a half-rack of gear, composable infrastructure can be deployed easily and incrementally, side-by-side with the existing infrastructure. It can be deployed as part of a standard refresh cycle to grow capabilities - at a pace that makes sense for the  business. 

Gordon Grosse, Head of Technical Services, MCSA 

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