composable infrastructure

Composable infrastructure is a framework that decouples device resources in order to treat them as services. Physical compute, storage and network fabric resources are some examples of device resources that can be treated as services. The goal of a composable infrastructure is to allow an enterprise data center to use its physical infrastructure while reducing the time it takes to deploy a new application.

The goal of a composable infrastructure is to allow an enterprise data center to use its own physical infrastructure in a more cost-effective manner by reducing waste and the amount of time it takes to deploy a new application. A composable infrastructure negates the need for IT administrators to be concerned about the physical location of infrastructure components. This means administrators don't have to physically configure hardware to support specific software applications.

Several vendors, including HP Enterprise and Cisco, have promoted the concept as a way for internal IT departments to provision workloads just as quickly and efficiently as public cloud service providers can, while still maintaining control over the infrastructure that supports mission-critical applications in a private cloud setting. In 2018, HPE bought Plexxi, a software-defined networking (SDN) vendor and eventually developed a composable cloud platform. Dell EMC has also developed its own composable infrastructure system, calling it “kinetic infrastructure.”

The concept of pooling physical infrastructure resources and building infrastructure logically has been supported by the popularity of SDN, object storageconverged infrastructure and DevOps.

How composable infrastructure works

In a composable infrastructure, resources are logically pooled so that administrators don't have to physically configure hardware to support a specific software application. Instead, the software’s developer defines the application’s requirements for physical infrastructure using policies and service profiles and then the software uses application programming interface (API) calls to create (compose) the infrastructure it needs to run on Bare metal, as a virtual machine (VM) or as a Container.

A framework defines what the individual objects "of composure" are  -- and each object exposes information about itself through a management API.  Then, when a software application requests infrastructure to run, available services are located through an automated discovery process and resources are allocated on demand. When an infrastructure resource is no longer required, it is re-appropriated so it can be allocated to another application that needs it.

 composable infrastructure layout
This image shows the basic structure of composable infrastructure


There is still no agreed-upon industry standards for deploying a composable infrastructure. This has lead to different vendors having to determine how to deploy the infrastructure or even how to define it. Alternate composable infrastructure names can include including programmable infrastructure, intelligent infrastructure, software-defined infrastructure, Infrastructure as Code (IaC), decoupled infrastructure and hardware disaggregation. The lack of standards limits the technology's potential. Composable infrastructure should, in theory, be able to support commercial off-the-shelf hardware across multiple locations, but flexibility like this is still a long way off. Because of this, there is a higher risk of vendor lock-in.

This was last updated in September 2020

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