Hewlett Packard Enterprise is making its move into the nascent composable infrastructure space, the latest step in the continuing evolution of increasingly application-centric data center environments.
At the company’s Discover 2015 show in London Dec. 1, officials with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) unveiled its Synergy platform, which is based on an infrastructure architecture that is designed to ensure the exact amount of compute resources—from processing power and storage to network fabric and virtualization— can be rapidly pulled together from a single resource pool to support an application, and then returned to the pool when they’re no longer needed for the workload.
The Synergy platform, which HPE has been working on for three years, brings together all the resources along with the necessary software-defined intelligence and unified API to self-discover and self-assemble or compose the needed infrastructure and to ensure complete infrastructure programmability, according to company officials.
Enterprises are under increasing pressure to more quickly spin out new applications and services and pursue new business models and opportunities. IT departments need to enable this by not only driving greater efficiencies and reducing costs in the current systems and enterprise software that run their traditional business, but to address the demands for speed and agility that come with the rise of such trends as big data, mobility, security and cloud computing.
Driving factors for many of these businesses go beyond cost reduction and focus more on flexibility, speed and time to value, Antonio Neri, executive vice president and general manager of HPE’s Enterprise Group, told eWEEK. At the same time, they need to embrace a hybrid form of IT that will help them not only with their traditional business applications but with adopting new models.
“When we talk to CIOs, it’s really about how to bridge the old world and the new world,” Neri said, adding that a hybrid infrastructure can address these demands. “You really need to tailor the infrastructure to the application.”
Enterprises are too often trying to run their traditional workloads on one infrastructure, while managing their emerging workloads on another, according to Paul Miller, vice president of market at HPE. Such environments waste money and don’t offer the kind of flexibility that composable infrastructures bring.
“This is about bringing the private cloud up to a level that you cannot get with the current infrastructure,” Miller said during a press briefing in the days leading up to the Discover show. “You’re talking about two worlds: one static, and one very dynamic.”
The move to composable infrastructure is at its earliest stages, and HPE is joining other tech vendors—such as Cisco Systems, Intel and Dell, to differing degrees—as they look to begin offering pools of infrastructure resources that can be composed and then decomposed as needed, according to Jed Scaramella, research director at IDC. It’s part of the continuing evolution in the data center—which has included such trends as blade servers (with shared resources), converged and hyper-converged infrastructures—toward agile and scalable environments that can be rapidly provisioned to meet the demands of next-generation workloads around big data, cloud and mobility.
“You’re not bound by the physical configuration of the server anymore,” Scaramella told eWEEK, noting that the resources you need are part of a single pool that includes compute, networking and storage that are decoupled from the hardware and that may be from different nodes in the system, but can be dynamically configured as needed to serve the needs of the workloads. “Now you’re starting to unlock a lot of the assets. … You can provide these optimized configurations for the applications to the architecture to ensure the best performance.”
Tech vendors have been taking steps in this direction for a while, he said, adding that the market is now beginning to see products, such as HPE’s Synergy platform. Intel is moving in that direction with its Rack System Architecture (RSA), introduced in 2013. It essentially offers a core common design that vendors can adopt and then differentiate, Scaramella said. Companies like Ericsson, Huawei Technologies and Qualcomm all are building off of RSA, he said.
Dell is moving in that direction with its highly dense, converged PowerEdge FX architecture, which was launched a year ago. It’s not a composable infrastructure, “but you can see where that roadmap can go,” Scraramella said.
HPE Enters Composable Infrastructure Space With Synergy
Cisco is offering composable infrastructure capabilities through its Unified Computing System (UCS) M-Series modular servers and its UCS C3260 rack servers, which like HPE’s Synergy offering can compose and recompose the various disaggregated resources into infrastructures optimized for particular workloads. A key is Cisco’s System Link technology, which enables the disaggregation of the compute resources from the underlying hardware while bringing the control plane into the hardware.
“Composable software is truly software infrastructure,” Todd Brannon, director of UCS marketing at Cisco, told eWEEK. Infrastructure “has always been a monolithic system wrapped in sheet metal. What we want to do is wrap our servers in code.”
The M-Series—launched last year—and the newer C3260 systems are “driving on the same axis that we’ve been driving on” since first rolling out the UCS converged infrastructure in 2009, Brannon said. The UCS solutions have included a unified fabric and converged network adapter (CNA).
“Infrastructure-as-code is a term we’ve been using,” he said. “There will be a lot of noise around it later.”
HPE officials first raised its Synergy composable infrastructure strategy this summer, when it rolled out the open API, a single line of code that can abstract, discover, search, provision and update all elements of the infrastructure so it can test and run code. It also is being leveraged by such partners as Microsoft, VMware, Chef and Docker to develop integrated offerings for the platform.
Synergy also uses HPE’s OneView management software for a single interface for composing physical and virtual resources into whatever configuration is needed for the application. The fluid resource pools can support any physical, virtual and containerized workloads. The software-defined intelligence can go into the resource pool and define the template needed for the workload.
“Having intelligence in workloads makes it very easy to change things,” Paul Durzan, vice president of infrastructure management and orchestration software for HPE, said during a press briefing. “There are no boundaries here. It just picks what it needs.”
Synergy is scheduled to be available in the second quarter of 2016. HPE’s Neri said there several proof-of-concepts underway now with large customers, including some tier-two and tier-three service providers.
IDC’s Scaramella said that while the composable infrastructure market is just coming together, there are elements that enterprises can start embracing now. And while composable infrastructure is new, the underlying technology—from x86 processors to flash and hard drives—are familiar to most businesses.
“It’s not going to be ‘boom’ one day,” he said, adding that businesses will bring the technology into their environments incrementally. “It’s more of an evolution. Customers will pick it up as it fits their needs.”
The capabilities will increase over the next few years, as more of the infrastructure resources become disaggregated and put into the resource pool, Scaramella said. For example, silicon photonics—a technology still one to two years away, in which data is transferred within the processor using light rather than electrical conductors—will enable the compute to be separated from the memory without increasing latency, he said.
Going forward, a key challenge for vendors will be around building awareness of what composable infrastructure is and what it can do, and to get buy-in from customers, according to Scaramella. Businesses are going to want to see it in action, and proof-of-concepts will be important to establishing confidence.
“You’ve to prove that this works,” he said.