Hello friend! Composable infrastructure is truly revolutionizing how modern enterprises can architect, manage, and optimize their IT infrastructure. In this comprehensive guide, we‘ll dive deep and explore everything you need to know about this emerging approach.
What is Composable Infrastructure?
Composable infrastructure is a flexible, software-defined approach to managing data center resources. It breaks down compute, storage, and network into fluid resource pools that can be allocated on-demand.
In traditional infrastructure, you have to manually configure and couple together servers, storage, networking etc. But composable infrastructure abstracts all that using software intelligence.
This enables you to dynamically compose, allocate, and reuse these hardware resources in any combination needed by your workloads. It‘s like lego blocks – you can keep assembling and dismantling them as required!
Let‘s understand this with an example:
Earlier, if your application needed more compute power, you had to physically install new servers even if you had excess storage available. Now, you can instantly allocate more compute from the resource pool without disrupting other applications.
In essence, composable architecture provides greater utilization, flexibility and automation in managing modern data center infrastructure.
The Origins of Composable Infrastructure
The roots of composable infrastructure can be traced back to the evolution of converged and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) solutions in the early 2010s.
Traditional infrastructure involved complex management of disparate components. Converged infrastructure aimed to simplify this by integrating pre-defined bundles of resources like servers, storage and network fabric into a single chassis managed through a common toolset.
HCI took this further with hypervisors allowing shared resources to be virtualized and allocated through software. However, converged and HCI solutions still had fixed resource configurations limiting flexibility.
Composable builds on these concepts but emphasizes the disaggregation and fluid pooling of resources. Some key milestones in the emergence of composable infrastructure:
2014 – The term "composable infrastructure" was coined by IT research firm Gartner
2015 – HPE launches one of the first composable offerings, HPE Synergy
2017 – Dell EMC announces its composable solution, Dell EMC Ready Stack
2018 – DriveScale launches composable disaggregated infrastructure for data centers
2021 and beyond – Composable infrastructure gains wider adoption across enterprises
Unlike previous solutions closely binding hardware and software, composable represents the flexible data center vision by decoupling resources and enabling true infrastructure-as-code.
How Does Composable Infrastructure Work?
Composable architecture is made possible through some core technical innovations:
1. Disaggregated Resource Pools
Compute, storage and network are separated into discrete resource pools instead of being coupled. This allows each resource type to scale independently.
2. Software-Defined Abstraction
A software management layer abstracts the underlying resource pools and acts as the orchestration engine. It could be based on hypervisor or container technologies.
3. Automated APIs
Open APIs allow the management software to expose the resource pools and enable provisioning of infrastructure through programmability.
Engineers can use declarative infrastructure-as-code tools like Ansible, Terraform etc. to leverage the APIs and provision resources on-demand.
5. Stateless Hardware
The underlying hardware remains stateless i.e. it stores no application-specific data. The software abstraction provides the fluidity.
This architecture provides the foundation to dynamically compose and decompose hardware resources on-demand via programmability. The resources can be consumed by workloads running on bare-metal, VMs or containers.
Let‘s analyze the components powering a composable architecture:
Traditionally, compute, storage and network were coupled tightly in servers. Composable infrastructure breaks down these into separate resource pools by:
Disaggregating servers – Separating compute (CPU, memory) from storage
Converging network – Using high-speed network fabric like Gen-Z to connect resource pools
Pooling resources – Grouping similar resources like SSDs into unified pools
Resource disaggregation enables independent scaling of each resource type while pooling allows abstraction.
An abstraction software layer is key to provide the infrastructure-as-code capabilities. It virtualizes and exposes the resource pools through APIs.
The abstraction software could be:
- Hypervisor – Like vSphere, Hyper-V, KVM etc to provide VMs
- Container Orchestrator – Such as Kubernetes to provision containers
- Specialized software – Tools like HPE OneView for resource management
The abstraction layer hides infrastructure complexities enabling simplified, software-defined provisioning.
Instead of complex legacy configs, engineers can leverage APIs to easily interface with the abstracted resources programmatically. Key capabilities exposed via APIs:
- Authentication – Manage user identities and access
- Discovery – Find available resources in pools
- Allocation & Provisioning – Programmatically compose and deploy infrastructure
- Monitoring – Get telemetry data for performance, health etc.
- Reclamation – Release resources back to pool when not needed
Well-designed APIs are critical as they enable writing infrastructure-as-code for automated operations.
Benefits of Composable Architecture
Composable infrastructure aims to make data center operations more agile, flexible and cloud-like. Let‘s analyze some of its business and technology benefits:
1. Optimized Resource Utilization
- Pooled resources right-sized for needs, not overprovisioned
- Shared pools with no silos improve utilization
- Reduces infrastructure costs by up to 59% 
2. Agility and Speed
- Automates manual infrastructure tasks – deploy 5X faster 
- Quickly adapt resources to meet changing app needs
- Accelerates development by provisioning environments in minutes
3. Flexibility and Portability
- Decouples resources from hardware, no vendor lock-in
- Workloads easily portable across environments
- Hardware refresh no longer disrupts applications
4. Simplified Operations
- Single API-driven way to manage infrastructure
- No special skills needed to configure hardware
- Intent-based declaration minimizes human errors
5. Scalability on Demand
- Independent resource scaling, no bottlenecks
- Elasticity to dynamically allocate resources
- Consume-as-you-go model, like cloud
6. Hardware Abstraction
- Abstract complexity, focus on apps and code
- Hardware-agnostic – supports on-prem, hybrid or cloud
The data demonstrates how composable infrastructure can help slash costs, boost productivity and enhance utilization along multiple dimensions.
Next, let‘s do a comparative analysis of composable versus converged and hyperconverged architectures.
Comparing Composable, Converged and Hyperconverged Infrastructures
While converged, hyperconverged and composable infrastructures have overlapping concepts, there are some distinct differences in their architecture and applicability:
|Approach||Software-defined, disaggregated resources||Integrated hardware bundles||Hardware-coupled software virtualization|
|Flexibility||Most flexible||Some flexibility||Least flexibility|
|Scalability||Stateless scaling of each resource||Scales by adding modules||Limited scalability|
|Hardware Coupling||Loose coupling||Tight integration of bundles||Very tight coupling|
|Resource Sharing||Shared resource pools||Limited sharing between bundles||Cluster-level sharing|
|Use Cases||Dynamic, cloud-native apps||Traditional enterprise apps||Specialized, niche apps|
- Composable offers the highest agility and flexibility by breaking hardware couplings
- Converged simplifies but has limited flexibility due to bundled modules
- Hyperconverged tightly integrates hardware with virtualization
Therefore, composable infrastructure suits modern cloud-native applications that demand maximum flexibility and dynamism. Converged and HCI are better suited for traditional apps with more predictable resource needs.
Let‘s better understand these architectures with an analogy:
- Composable is like cooking in your own kitchen where ingredients (resources) are fluid
- Converged orders pre-defined meals limiting customization
- Hyperconverged cooks specialized dishes in an appliance with little flexibility
Now that we‘ve compared the architectures, let‘s analyze the evolution of composable infrastructure solutions and offerings.
Analysis of Prominent Composable Infrastructure Solutions
While the market is still evolving, some leading vendors offer composable products for enterprises:
One of the first solutions launched back in 2015, HPE Synergy disaggregates compute and storage into resource pools. It uses its Composer management engine to abstract infrastructure and support fluid resource allocation.
- Mature and proven product
- Tight integration with HPE‘s infrastructure and management stack
- Proprietary hardware required
- Vendor lock-in risks
Dell EMC Ready Solutions
Dell EMC offers pre-integrated and validated designs like Ready Stack that provide building blocks for composable infrastructure using its PowerEdge servers.
- Leverages Dell‘s broad hardware ecosystem
- Pre-integration reduces deployment risks
- Still evolving with less flexibility than HPE
- More suited for Dell-centric environments
Cisco‘s Unified Computing System (UCS) now supports composable architecture through disaggregated computing modules and unified management.
- Strong networking fabric optimizations
- Integrates with Cisco‘s data center portfolio
- Mostly tied to Cisco-only hardware
- Composability features still maturing
Liqid Composable Platform
Liqid offers software-defined composable infrastructure across any industry-standard x86 hardware. Promises platform-agnostic solutions.
- Open standards-based, hardware-agnostic
- Flexibility to change hardware vendors
- Smaller vendor, still proving product-market fit
- Limited ecosystem integrations
DriveScale Composable Platform
DriveScale focuses on composable infrastructure specifically for storage. Allows decoupled storage to be provisioned as a service.
- Specialized for storage-centric use cases
- Hardware-agnostic disaggregated storage
- Does not address compute and network
- Niche vendor, long-term viability risks
This analysis shows some early leaders, but most vendors are still developing their composable offerings. As solutions mature, enterprises need to evaluate independence from proprietary hardware, flexibility, and ability to integrate with their existing infrastructure.
Next, let us look at the future roadmap and adoption trends around composable infrastructure.
The Road Ahead: Composable Infrastructure Trends
Composable infrastructure is still in its growth phase with mainstream adoption expected over the next 5 years. Let‘s look at some upcoming trends:
Reaching Critical Mass
- IDC forecasts composable infrastructure market to reach $18B by 2025 
- Expanded offerings expected from Dell, Cisco, Lenovo
- HPE enhancing composability in its GreenLake services
- Solutions like Liqid enabling composability across cloud and on-prem
- Consistent infrastructure provisioning across environments
- Boosting hybrid cloud and application portability
Edge Computing Support
- Composable techniques to manage edge sites and 5G infrastructure
- Dynamic resource allocation at edge locations
- Reduced latency for emerging edge use cases
- Deeper integration with DevOps tools and pipelines
- Composable patterns align to GitOps flows
- Infrastructure-as-code to enhance collaboration
Newer Use Cases
- Expanding from VDI to support cloud-native apps, AI/ML etc.
- Adoption in mid-size enterprises beyond initial large-scale users
- Emergence of vertical-specific solutions
As composable infrastructure matures, it promises to make infrastructure management flexible, painless and cloud-like. While still evolving, it is the way forward for modern digital businesses!
Let me summarize some key points on what makes composable infrastructure so powerful:
It decouples resources like compute and storage into pools abstracted by software to enable flexibility.
Programmable APIs and infrastructure-as-code allow dynamic provisioning of resources on-demand.
Composable architecture provides enormous advantages for agility, scalability and automation over traditional approaches.
It is best suited for cloud-native applications that require maximum fluidity and portability across environments.
Solutions are maturing with expanded offerings expected from major vendors as adoption accelerates over the next 5 years.
So there you have it, my friend! I hope this guide gave you a comprehensive overview of composable infrastructure – its technical foundations, business value, and the road ahead. Let me know if you have any other questions. I‘m happy to discuss more.
Wishing you the best on your digital transformation journey!