Composable Infrastructure

Pooling resources for greater agility

Modern hybrid clouds shatter traditional data center boundaries. Workloads now flow to and from onsite facilities to public cloud infrastructure and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. That free-form flexibility may serve the changing demands of the business, but it also forces CIOs to cope with growing IT complexity and new security considerations. Without a new approach to data center management, IT leaders risk paying a higher price for their newfound agility, in the form of unnecessary costs and additional burdens on already strained IT teams.

For many organizations, composable infrastructure and software-defined data centers (SDDC) offer a better solution. These closely related strategies layer a software-based management console on top of virtualized computing, networking and storage to create one large, agile pool of IT resources. Think about composable infrastructure as treating each element and IT resource as a service, composing them in real time to meet demand.

“People can just say, ‘Give me a cluster of 15 servers with 30 cores and provision that into a virtual private cloud,’” says Dan Conde, senior analyst with the Enterprise Strategy Group. “The virtual network overlay then ties everything together.”

Clear Pay Offs

Some consider composable infrastructure to be “infrastructure as code.” No matter how it’s defined, composable infrastructure and SDDCs accelerate the spinning up of services. IT managers can better focus budgets and staff on activities that directly benefit business operations, rather than ongoing maintenance and management of IT systems. That payoff applies to many types of traditional workloads, including those associated with ERP and database applications, but they’re particularly important for use cases that benefit from on-demand provisioning, such as DevOps. Teams can quickly provision the necessary resources for development and testing, and return computing, storage and networking services to the master resource pool when they’re no longer needed.

“With a sea of dynamic IT resources, organizations can carve out ERP and DevOps workloads from the same infrastructure, rather than creating pockets built for specific applications,” says Chad Dunn, vice president of product management at Dell EMC. “That enables teams to customize operations more quickly, while also providing for greater data protection.”

This modern approach also plays an important role in ongoing data center simplification and transformation by allowing IT managers to shrink hardware footprints and avoid overbuying of devices and software licenses to accommodate unexpected spikes in demand.

“Composable infrastructures are an answer to the over-provisioning that is common in traditional data centers,” says Neil MacDonald, vice president and general manager at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).

“Having pools of compute, storage and networking fabric to serve multiple needs means administrators can make sizing decisions centrally as opposed to guessing how much infrastructure they may need for each application group.”


$139 billion

The projected size of the software-defined data center market by 2022, representing a rise of 32% annually from 2016

Source: Allied Market Research, “Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast,” August 2016

Hardened Security

Composable infrastructures and software-defined data centers (SDDC) don’t just represent new ways of thinking about how best to manage IT resources. They also present a new way to look at security.

As IT managers evaluate composable infrastructure solutions, they should also keep an eye on critical security capabilities. The goal should be to specify security and data-protection requirements as the IT staff creates new workload domains.

“Once the system gathers the appropriate IT resources — server, networking and storage — the staff should be able to choose to encrypt at the virtual machine level or choose to encrypt the entire data store,” says Chad Dunn, vice president of product management at Dell EMC. “They may choose to have the workload remain replicated to a different site, or to have it stretch clustered across multiple sites for continuous availability.”

Organizations should expect to see data and virtual machine encryption included in the platforms they’re considering. They should also see tools for customizing security certificates and integrating with existing encryption-key management systems, Dunn says.

With a range of data-management options like those in place, IT managers can expect tighter security.

“Composable infrastructures make it easier to consistently deploy resources,” says Neil MacDonald, vice president and general manager at HPE. “That makes it possible to configure and deploy a consistent security strategy to each individual workload.”


A Range of Options

HPE is one of a handful of vendors offering platforms for creating composable infrastructures. HPE Synergy combines computing, storage and networking capabilities via a single, unified API.

“The unified API is key because it becomes a productivity multiplier,” MacDonald says. “Many organizations have attempted to automate the underlying infrastructure through the years, but the complexity of managing diverse device interfaces quickly swamped those efforts. A unified API addresses that complexity, so enterprises see the benefits of automation.”

To speed resource implementation and ongoing management, HPE Synergy offers templates for defining requirements and deploying resources programmatically, as well as for making changes and updates.

“HPE Synergy views those lifecycle tasks and the provisioning of the physical infrastructure as an extension of code,” MacDonald explains.

Dell EMC’s VxRack System SDDC integrates VMware Cloud Foundation software for hyperconverged platforms with Dell EMC’s PowerEdge servers. The company’s VxRail option offers similar SDDC capabilities in a preconfigured appliance. VMware, a subsidiary of Dell Technologies, also sells VMware NSX, a virtualization and security platform for creating SDDCS.

 “SDDC brings the same flexibility, configurability and agility seen in public clouds to their on-premises data centers,” Dunn says. “That’s important when resources need to remain in-house for reasons of cost, compliance and security.”

Plan for Success

While composable infrastructures and SDDCs offer many potential benefits, analysts and vendors say IT managers need upfront preparation to fully capitalize on them. First, CIOs should undertake an honest assessment of whether their IT culture is ready to transform to a software-defined operating model, where separate teams of specialists will no longer oversee servers, networks and storage. Instead, virtual infrastructure administrators will manage all those areas, using their skills to automate IT environments. In some cases, an enterprise may decide to retain current staff, or may hire new talent for the role.

Second, tailor long-term roadmaps for ongoing efficiency as the IT infrastructure evolves over time.

“Enterprises will continue to encounter a range of different workloads with different requirements in the years ahead,” MacDonald says. “And that means a diversity of options for how to deploy them. The more flexible data centers become thanks to composable infrastructures, the more they will deliver valuable services moving forward.”



Learn more about CDW’s wide portfolio of data center services and solutions.
Learn more about CDW’s wide portfolio of data center services and solutions.