Thursday, 12 May 2016 11:47

What is composable infrastructure?

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The new buzzword is ‘composable infrastructure’ – in essence it means the entire physical compute, storage and network fabric resources are treated as services and called by using APIs.

There is lots of talk about infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and pretty well anything as a service – AaaS but what does it mean to the average enterprise.

According to Raj Thakur, Vice President & General Manager, Hybrid IT, Hewlett Packard APJ it’s the new balance of infrastructure – bare metal, on-premise, virtual machine or containers – to deliver high velocity IT – and it should deliver time and cost savings. Its related to things like software-defined networking, fluid IT, converged infrastructure and DevOps.

Raj has penned a piece on composable infrastructure to explain where the term has come from and where its going.

IT leaders are continually searching for ways to do two things: deliver stable and reliable services, and build in the flexibility and agility to adapt those services to new business needs. And the need for speed can come from the need for the business to survive – with digital business it’s often the first mover that takes home not only market share but also most of the profits.

On the one hand, much of what IT has been doing depends on stability and meeting Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Once a service like a payroll or pricing and order entry is running, businesses depend on it running every time, 24x7, and that’s true of most of the services that IT delivers.

On the other hand, there are so many business opportunities that new technologies enable and IT needs to be able to exploit and respond to them quickly. The local banking industry for example – Australian banks are now trying to establish competitive advantages in the mobile app space. As we’ve seen, the banks that are pulling ahead of the competition are the ones that are fast and adaptable to changing needs, while still providing a high degree of reliability.

And the same goes for the new consumption models. The pay per use, rapidly scalable cloud model is a great way to add speed and agility to an infrastructure plan.

The tough balance that IT leaders must now strike is to get the most out of the data centre today and to increase the speed and agility with which they can respond. “High velocity IT” describes this state – the ability to deliver both reliability and rapid changes from the same hybrid infrastructure.

Many organisations are using automation tools to not only simplify the provisioning of new infrastructure but also to treat system configuration the same way as software. This means mapping source code management to configuration management and mapping test-driven development to tools that ensure that a ‘composed’ infrastructure is appropriate for the application to run the needed workload.

These automation tools go far beyond simple scripts and automation tools in use today. Composed configurations can be stored externally in source-control systems, enabling not only version control but the ability to ensure that any changes to the virtual infrastructure are automatically tested and easily replicated when new instances are needed to support growth or expanded to meet peak demand. This is Infrastructure as Code in practice, and although it has been gaining a foothold in the “cloud native” and DevOps community for a while, its benefits are now becoming clear to enterprises of all types, whether their infrastructure is in their datacentre, the cloud, or a hybrid of both.

When developers and ISVs can treat hardware infrastructure as code, some new benefits materialise. First, new workflows and infrastructure can be provisioned, configured and monitored centrally. This enables businesses to completely disaggregate compute, storage, and network fabric resources into pools that can be provisioned, deployed, retired and returned to pools all under programmatic control. The result is faster time to value for development, testing and production teams, which ultimately helps business bring new service to market quicker.

Composable Infrastructure is put together like a piece of music, built specifically to support a particular workload or application, just as that workload was built to solve a specific business need. So, just as a composer decides which musical phrase works best on what instrument, infrastructure as code practitioners craft their composition through repeatable templates. The composer pulls together the exact combination of compute, storage and fabric resources, as well as firmware and software that are best suited for a particular workload.

Composable Infrastructure also enhances reliability, since any actions that affect the infrastructure are now tested thoroughly before deployment to live into a production environment. In today’s age of rapid-fire demands, the only way to speed deployment and satisfy shifting business needs quickly is through automation.

Additionally, this disaggregation of the physical infrastructure – compute, storage, and networking – enables higher degrees of efficiency through no stranded resources. This new approach does more than help organisations get the most out of their IT infrastructure. Infrastructure as Code has broad policy implications, ensuring and improving compliance, security and governance while increasing agility and efficiency of existing hardware.

As this is a leap for some organisations, finding the right technology partner will be critical to providing the roadmap for the optimal use of automation in their environment. It can be easy to pilot a technology, but having the right expert consultation, holistic enterprise-grade support and tools are critical to utilising infrastructure automation on a larger scale.

HPE has a paper on this here.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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