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Is there a compelling event for composable infrastructures?

Fast track to your VMware Software-Defined Data Center

Articles about the beauty of composable infrastructures (sometimes also called “infrastructure as code”) made me take a closer look at this new hype.

So what is all the noise being made about? To keep it short and simple: It is about high-density racks comprised of disaggregated physical resources for compute, storage and – to some degree – networking (physical NIC’s cannot be dynamically connected or disconnected from compute resources). Whenever a workload is expected to run, either bare-metal, in a virtual machine or a container, these resources can be dynamically composed through a single management interface. Dedicated hardware management will logically connect the respective resources, and dynamically adapt the infrastructure at near-instant speed on the fly, if the workload once requires more of a resource. And when the resources are no longer required, they will be returned to the resource pool. Basically, hardware configuration is completely automated.

The benefits are quite obvious: Cost-effective use of your physical infrastructure, because under-utilization and over-capacities can be avoided, faster deployment of new applications, optimum application performance, increased productivity and agility, as well as reduced operational effort and cost. However, there are also some limitations: The hardware building blocks are still rather inflexible. Processors and memory are tightly bound to the motherboard of a single server; aggregating and pooling them across units is not possible. Furthermore, there are no industry-wide standards in place yet, which results in a hardware vendor lock-in.

The benefits of composable reminded me of the software-defined data center approach. With this approach, hardware is also pooled and shared; provisioning, configuration and operation including the entire lifecycle management are automated; a policy-driven and adaptive resource orchestration is also supported.

There are a few minor differences, too: with SDDC all resources are virtualized, and hence deployable on any hardware (even commodity hardware), while the resources of a composable infrastructure are physical resources, which have to suit to the management interface of the infrastructure vendor. In both cases, there is a unified management for all resources; but as said: with SDDC the resources are virtual, while with composable they are physical. But basically you can achieve similar targets with both approaches.

I was wondering why vendors of composable infrastructure implement something in hardware that can be implemented in software, and even better, in a finer granularity, faster, and at lower efforts, while avoiding hardware dependencies. I found only a single argument: composable infrastructures enable you to run applications bare-metal, which is not supported in a software-defined data center. But do such applications really need a high level of flexibility? Is a composable infrastructure really the ideal solution for them? Or is it like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut?

My conclusion after having a deeper look at composable: there is no compelling event for adopting it. With a software-defined data center approach, you will achieve the same, in a more elegant, and more importantly, in a tried and tested way.

For more information about software-defined data center implementations, have a look at PRIMEFLEX for VMware Cloud Foundation.

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    Christian Arlt
    January 22, 2018

    I am sharing Gernot’s opinion. Composable is a great technology concept, but it does not provide more than an SDDC does. This might also be the reason why composable has not penetrated the market. The number of deployments seems to be extremely low.

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