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5 things you need to know about composable infrastructure

Linda Dailey Paulson Freelance writer

There is a lot of confusion around composable infrastructure, an approach for provisioning and managing both real and virtual infrastructure assets that bridges hardware and software by using infrastructure as code and breaking down traditional silos for application deployment and management.

This application-centric approach promises greater operational efficiency while helping IT lower total infrastructure costs. Additionally, it provides flexibility for changing resource needs and faster time-to-market for customer-facing service applications, wrote Gina Longoria, a senior analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in a March 2016 whitepaper. Rather than “force-fitting all of their applications onto static, siloed hardware” users have options to right-size the resources they need, which increases efficiency, said Longoria. An added value: Composable infrastructure supports existing, traditional applications while being able to take advantage of newer application development approaches such as continuous delivery.


Here are five things you need to know about composable infrastructure, to be clear on what it is and the value it can bring to your organization.

1. It is based on both compute resources and software

Three specific technology architectures are used to create a composable infrastructure: fluid pools of infrastructure resources, which include computing, storage, and fabric resources; intelligent software; and a single, unified API. For an architecture to be truly composable, each of these three layers must be involved in the execution and operation of the infrastructure.

These technologies allow the computing, storage, and fabric resources to be individually changed—aggregated, disaggregated, and composed—based on an application’s precise needs. The software intelligence, which is both programmable and template-driven, enables the hardware, for example, to take care of itself without requiring a dedicated system administrator’s oversight.

The self-discovery and -healing capabilities work with both the infrastructure and the application. The single API allows the IT professional to control the infrastructure elements—the compute, storage, and fabric resources—that can plug into other programming elements, which might include resources or tools from Ansible, Chef, Docker, Puppet, or VMware.

With a single line of code, an IT professional or developer can get precisely the right amount of resources configured exactly as she needs to match the application. An architecture using less than these three layers of technology provides some composable features, but it is not a fully composable architecture. Only a fully composable architecture provides users with the ability to execute both traditional and cloud-style agile operations from a single infrastructure.

2. It provisions on demand

With a composable infrastructure, organizations can instantly and dynamically provision both hardware and software using a unified API. This allows resources to change based on either a specific application or system workload.

This flexibility enables infrastructure to be more responsive to the organization’s needs. Because resources can be reconfigured as needed, the delivery of applications and services from which the business can derive value is accelerated. This might be an application designed to provide customers with new user experiences or changes to existing applications supporting the business based on leveraging business intelligence in new ways.

3. It runs anywhere

With composability, your infrastructure can run without being limited to a single computing technology or concept. It can run on virtual machines, through bare-metal deployment, containers, and cloud-native applications. Because a composable infrastructure is a platform not tied to one single technology, users can take advantage of this flexibility, buffet-style, to apply the technologies applicable to their unique needs, be it virtualization or hybrid cloud or both.

It can also run and store anything.

These attributes of composable infrastructure allow IT to deliver a full-service provider experience to users and organizations to more fearlessly innovate, because there is no need, for example, to wait to purchase a new server to roll out an application.

Because a single set of operational practices is associated with it, composable infrastructure allows an organization to reduce the complexity and cost associated with traditional data center operations precisely because the physical and virtual resources can be provisioned on demand regardless of the application or the resource.

This feature has three key benefits. First, it provides users with faster service delivery, whether the deliverable is a new application or an update to a traditional platform used by the business. Second, it gives IT professionals the ability to provide continuous delivery, which enables developers to quickly make changes to both applications and infrastructure. And third, because the infrastructure operations and applications are integrated and automated, the organization becomes more agile.

4. It is smarter than your average infrastructure

Because composable infrastructure uses intelligent software, your operation will be smarter as well. From the outset, a composable system is able to automatically discover the resources available to it. If, for example, some hardware asset is not attached or configured correctly, the system automatically detects these issues and offers suggestions on how to resolve the problem.

Software-defined templates are another iteration of intelligence within a composable infrastructure. These allow users to instantly set up, provision, and update the infrastructure in a single step. This saves time as well, since any changes can be made instantly, which enables applications to be continuously available.

These attributes also reduce human intervention in rote operations. The infrastructure is able to secure itself and also self-orchestrate as well as complete diagnostics.

5. It is more scalable

Because composable infrastructure is readily scaled, its use can be increased over time, at the rate that works best for your organization. A pool of composable resources can be as small or as large as you want or need it to be.

The first step in creating a composable infrastructure is to identify those elements—such as servers, storage, and network—that you may wish to deploy in an incremental fashion. These can sit in the data center with the existing infrastructure resources. Next, you might undertake a pilot program, allowing you and your staff to become familiar with the technology and track metrics.

Those using either a converged or hyperconverged platform are already familiar with these types of operational benefits, but they can be extended through composable infrastructure when, for example, resources are pooled for dynamic provisioning.

Once you have been able to adequately prove the business case for composability to decision-makers, you can expand the pool of composable resources.

Composable infrastructure: Coming to an enterprise near you

Composable infrastructure is based on both computing resources and software. It enables users to provision on demand. It runs anywhere and has the benefit of being both a smarter and more scalable infrastructure. Yes, it is still a new concept, but it is a solution poised to be deployed throughout enterprises of all sizes, according to Longoria.

“IT organizations running next-generation applications with dynamic resource needs that are core to their business success—such as big data, software-defined storage, and cloud-based services—should consider evaluating composable infrastructure solutions as a potential fit for their environments. In addition, traditional workloads—such as collaboration, data processing and analytics, supply chain, and web infrastructure—could benefit from composable infrastructure via improved costs due to smarter allocation of resources and unified management.”—Gina Longoria

Has your organization been working with composable infrastructure? Share your experiences in the comments below. Also, if you have further questions, we'll endeavor to get you the answers. 


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