The Ripple Effect

Part 1: Composable Infrastructure for the Modern Data Center

Part 1: The Need for Composable Infrastructure

New approaches to infrastructure design are required for businesses to keep up with the amount of data that is generated, and whose timely analysis is of paramount importance for the business to remain competitive in the digital economy. Newer approaches to infrastructure must focus on efficiency to minimize budgetary shocks on IT departments, and agility to respond to business needs on-demand. Businesses are embracing new-generation applications to prepare themselves for the future, while maintaining current-gen applications that support revenue-generating operations.

Composable infrastructure technologies from vendors like TidalScale are designed with these key objectives in mind. They are designed to support both current and new generation of applications, thus enabling IT to better service revenue-generating operations while also supporting their business foray into the future. Crucially, Composable software solutions are software defined, and maximize return on investments in server hardware by pooling compute, memory and disk resources for maximum efficiency, utilization, and visibility across the entire datacenter, and not just a cluster of servers.

How does composable infrastructure add value in today’s modern IT environment?

Current-generation IT infrastructure can be rigid and siloed, making it difficult for IT to deliver quickly on the demands of new-generation applications going into production. As businesses embrace NGAs, they are adopting an application-centric approach to IT — building environments that require new levels of scale, automation, and flexibility. This model means a shift from a static and inflexible infrastructure to one that is more highly utilized, agile, and automated. Nearly every CIO is beginning to feel some impact of this digital transformation, with increasing demands to speed provisioning and scaling of IT applications and infrastructure.

Composable infrastructure technologies enable a flexible consumption model for datacenter infrastructure. With composable infrastructure, IT can:

  • Configure systems optimally and seek to utilize them fully, and thus reduce the cost of delivering services. Composable infrastructure increases their visibility into and control over datacenter infrastructure.
  • Make use of industry-standard general-purpose servers that have raw compute, storage and networking capabilities that work best when they are pooled together.
  • Better respond to dynamically changing and/or unanticipated workload requirements, better plan for growth, and offer improved service quality.

Composable infrastructure technologies include software-defined compute or servers (e.g., virtual machines and containers), storage (file, block, and object storage), and networking (SDN technologies). Composable solutions are designed to optimize the utilization of existing datacenter infrastructure through software-defined clustering, virtualization of existing infrastructure assets, and software-facilitated control of such assets. The result is increased IT efficiency, lower CapEx and OpEx, and increased agility (i.e., to enable IT to quickly adapt to changing workloads requirements).

What trends are driving organizations toward composability?

The demand for composable infrastructure is driven by the need to have a common cloud platform for delivering new and current-generation applications and workloads on traditional compute like virtualization, along with bare-metal and newer compute like containers. New-generation applications require more flexibility than what most datacenters can provide today (as they were tooled to meet the requirements of current-generation workloads). It is also driven by unprecedented growth in data, that needs to be collected, analyzed and disposed-off in a time-sensitive fashion.

Composable infrastructure is an emerging category of infrastructure systems that seek to aggregate physically disparate compute, storage, and networking fabric resources into shared resource pools that can be available for on-demand allocation. "Composability" is driven at the software (API) level and can be implemented with industry-standard servers that are connected via a high-speed low-latency network. Composable infrastructures overcome the limitations of traditional scale-up and complexities of early-generation scale-out systems, and they essentially eliminate the cost, time and expertise needed to manage scaled-up or scaled-out systems.

What are the current challenges to composability?

One can think of composable infrastructure software as the next phase in server virtualization and hyperconverged technologies. It overcomes the limitations of current-generation server virtualization technologies such as the inability to create compute resource pools from physically disparate resources, the lack of metering capabilities, and inability to transparently move the state of the system from one resource to another. Additionally, current-generation server virtualization technologies struggle to service bare-metal, virtualized and containerized workloads simultaneously.

However, composable infrastructure software is still limited by how much "disaggregation" is supported in the hardware. To fully implement the design principles of composable infrastructure, the hardware it operates on must support full disaggregation (in which resources are pooled down to a component level). Today, "composable" and "disaggregated" technologies have different evolutionary trajectories. The enabling hardware technologies such as silicon photonics are still in development, making it challenging for full disaggregation of memory and compute via an ultra-low-latency high bandwidth network. On the other hand, software technologies such as common application programming interfaces (APIs) offering infrastructure-as-a-code capabilities are available today, enabling IT to benefit from the solution today.

Ashish Nadkarni is Program Director for IDC’s Worldwide Infrastructure Practice. Contact him at

Topics: software-defined server, Cloud Computing, software-defined data center, composable infrastructure

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