The appeal of composable infrastructure is obvious: it promises to make data center resources as scalable and readily available as cloud services. The technology delivers fluid pools of networking, storage, and compute resources that can be composed and recomposed as needed. This on-the-fly capacity, which is based on what the software applications require at any given time, means companies can reduce over-provisioning and stranded assets and improve efficiency.
“I do think it’s the future of enterprise computing,” Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, told me in an earlier interview. But the technology is still in its infancy. And only a handful of vendors are currently shipping their composable products. While Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has the most developed composable infrastructure on the market, other traditional data center vendors jumped into the fray in 2018. And we expect to see more action in 2019.
Here are some composable infrastructure vendors to watch next year.
The Veteran: HPE
HPE has been talking about composable since 2015, and it started shipping Synergy, its composable infrastructure product, last year. It is now the company’s fastest-growing new technology category with more than 1,600 customers. During its fourth-quarter 2018 earnings call this month, CEO Antonio Neri touted Synergy’s “incredible year,” growing more than 280 percent and reaching an annual run rate of over $1 billion.
In May, HPE bought Plexxi, an SDN vendor. It soon after started integrating Plexxi’s technology with Synergy, allowing it to run bare-metal deployments in addition to virtual machines (VMs) and containers.
And in November it went beyond composable infrastructure to launch a new product called Composable Cloud. The hybrid cloud platform uses technology from Plexxi plus HPE’s existing software-defined data center stack. It aims to give enterprises the ability to compose any workload or service across any cloud.
The Challenger: Dell EMC
Dell EMC first announced its composable infrastructure system — it calls this “kinetic infrastructure” — at Dell Technologies World in May. It started shipping its PowerEdge MX product in September. It’s designed to support a combination of virtualization, SDN, software-defined storage, artificial intelligence, and big data projects.
Its key differentiator, according to the vendor, is that it doesn’t have a mid-plane, which enables direct compute to I/O module connections. This allows for future technology upgrades without disrupting customer operations and without a mid-plane upgrade.
This design also means the PowerEdge MX will support fully disaggregated components and emerging processor technologies such as GPUs and FPGAs and storage types like storage class memory (SCM).
The Wildcards: Nutanix and NetApp
Nutanix and NetApp have products that the vendors describe as SDN and HCI, respectively. But they both sound an awful lot like composable.
In May Nutanix added an SDN tool called Flow to its software stack that provides microsegmentation, network automation, and visualization capabilities. The company’s also been putting a lot of effort into virtualizing networking and compute, to make on-premises data centers more cloud like, and to “harmonize the architectures of public and private clouds.” In other words: composability.
“Our platform still has hardware that does storage, compute, and networking, but making that so abstract to the customer that deploying our platform feels like managing a cloud environment,” said Brett Roscoe, VP of product management at NetApp, in an earlier interview. So, it’s composable infrastructure? “We absolutely fit that category.”
The Newbie: Juniper Networks
Juniper jumped into composable infrastructure in November after reaching a deal to buy HTBASE. HTBASE makes composable infrastructure based on containers that can work across an organization’s private data centers and multiple public clouds.
At the time, Juniper CTO Bikash Koley said the company will initially incorporate HTBASE into Contrail Enterprise Multicloud to add a storage capability, making it easier for enterprises to migrate workloads across stacks. It plans to eventually incorporate the software with Contrail Edge Cloud and add it to Juniper’s portfolio of edge products.