LAS VEGAS — Composable infrastructure is the future of on-premises data center technology, according to Gary Thome, vice president and chief technologist for Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Software Defined and Cloud group.
It’s also a key competitive differentiator for HPE and a major reason why the company will win the software-defined infrastructure wars, Thome added.
“Composable gives you an environment to reshape the infrastructure to match the needs of the workloads you are running on it,” he said in an interview with SDxCentral at this week’s HPE Discover event. “It’s also controlled via APIs. So with composable, the infrastructure all the way down to the hardware itself can be controlled via software.”
Composable infrastructure delivers fluid pools of networking, storage, and compute resources that can be composed and recomposed as needed. It’s kind of like hyper-hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). And, in fact, Thome said “hyperconverged is a stepping stone to full composability.”
While HCI essentially allows users to composes compute and storage, composable infrastructure adds networking fabric as well. And APIs make it programable via infrastructure as code.
“Composability has to have fluid pools of computing, storage, and network fabric resources, those capabilities wrapped around software-defined intelligence, with software-defined intelligence grabbing the right amount of compute, storage, and networking, and composing them together in a manner that is exactly what the application environment needs,” Thome said.
Synergy Composable Infrastructure
HPE last year started shipping Synergy, its composable infrastructure product. Since then, more than 1,600 organizations have adopted the platform. In the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 alone HPE increased its Synergy customer base by more than 50 percent.
The company says one in four U.S. Fortune 50 companies use Synergy. This includes banks, retailers, communication, media, and entertainment companies.
“Synergy is a true software-defined platform and as we add more and more intelligence to it, it will become even more adaptive,” said HPE CEO Antonio Neri at Discover.
In May, HPE reached a deal to buy SDN vendor Plexxi. The acquisition closed earlier this month, and the company is already integrating Plexxi’s technology into its hyperconverged and composable infrastructure products. This will allow Synergy to run bare-metal deployments, in addition to virtual machines (VMs) and containers. This ability to handle all types of workloads means IT teams can operate from a single platform, which helps reduce data center complexity and costs.
“Part of why we made the Plexxi acquisition is that we’re going to bring [hyperconverged and composable infrastructure] together, which brings us closer to the full composable vision we have,” Thome said.
Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, agrees with Thome that HCI is a stepping stone toward composable. “I do think it’s the future of enterprise computing,” Moorehead added. “Composability is about making on-prem computing a lot more like the cloud where it’s a lot more scalable. Compute, memory and storage, and networking aren’t completely locked in.”
While other infrastructure vendors are shipping or working on their own composable platforms — Cisco has Intersight; and Dell EMC’s version, which it calls kinetic infrastructure, will be available later this year — Moorhead said HPE’s the leader. Plus, it’s got a head start on the competition. But its Synergy platform still isn’t fully composable.
“You still have to do some work,” he said. “If you start off with a completely containerized environment you can make Synergy composable. But through its Plexxi acquisition, HPE’s going to make rack-scale systems, really large-scale systems composable. That’s what I’m thinking when I think of a composable data center.”
Nutanix, he added, is the wildcard. The vendor rolled out its new SDN tool last month, and is working to “hybridize containers and VMs,” Nutanix CEO Dheeraj Pandey said in an earlier interview with SDxCentral.
“Nutanix is the wildcard because they are the disrupter,” Moorhead said. “They’re talking about not just doing HCI but also networking as well and how to better virtualize compute. The vision they have laid out is really good. They are a pure play — they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Making On-Prem Cloud Like
Ultimately all of the different approaches to composable infrastructure will be good for the industry, he said.
“The only way that we’re going to see the decline of these workloads moving to the public cloud is if you make [on-premises] as simple as the public cloud, and that’s writing infrastructure as code,” Moorehead explained. “You’re not having to pin it down to a certain server with a certain storage, and then it has to be able to have very high utilization rates as well.”
While a rack of servers may have a utilization rate of 20 percent to 30 percent, a fully optimized public cloud usage rate is closer to 95 percent. “A lot of that has to do with the software, but a lot of that also has to do with architecture,” Moorhead said. “Composable is the way that the enterprise gets the simplicity of the public cloud and much improved utilization rates.”