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Weighing open converged infrastructure against composable

OCI and composable infrastructure are both touted as the latest in convergence, but it is important to know how they differ before making an IT buying decision.

Vendors developed composable infrastructure and open converged infrastructure to address limitations of hyper-converged...

infrastructure, particularly when it comes to scalability. That's not to say that composable infrastructure and OCI work in the same manner. They differ in many important ways, and anyone considering these platforms for their organization should understand these distinctions.

There are also similarities between open converged infrastructure (OCI) and composable infrastructure. Like hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), the new infrastructures take a software-based approach to delivering compute and storage resources. However, administrators can now scale those resources separately from each other easier than with HCI.

Composable IT for custom workloads

Composable infrastructure provides a framework for delivering disaggregated compute, storage and network resources as a unified system. The infrastructure logically pools resources and presents them as services that can be provisioned, or composed, as needed to support specific workloads, similar to cloud-based computing.

With composable infrastructure, administrators do not have to configure physical hardware to support specific applications. In addition, composable infrastructure can handle workloads running on bare metal or within virtual machines (VMs) or containers, all within the same infrastructure.

Composable infrastructure is made up of three technology layers: hardware, software and an API. The hardware layer includes the physical compute, storage and network components that provide the infrastructure's foundation.

The software layer abstracts the hardware resources and organizes them into logical pools. The software also provisions the services, automates operations and carries out a variety of other tasks. In addition, the software is programmable and, along with the API layer, supports templates and preprogrammed scripts for automatically deploying infrastructure resources.

The software layer interfaces with the API layer to communicate with and control the hardware resources. The API makes it possible to deploy resources on demand, regardless of the hardware type. Admins can also use the API to integrate third-party tools, such as reporting or management solutions, into the infrastructure.

Opening up open converged infrastructure

OCI distinguishes itself from typical HCI by making it possible to scale and optimize the compute and storage layers separately. Most workloads run in VMs, although several HCI products also support containers.

The goal of both composable infrastructure and OCI is to deliver compute and storage resources as efficiently as possible, while simplifying management and ensuring an optimized, scalable environment.

Like composable infrastructure, open converged infrastructure is made up of three technology layers, or building blocks, that tie the infrastructure together. The first layer consists of the compute nodes, which contain processors, memory and flash storage for caching data. The workloads run on the compute node, whether in VMs or containers.

The compute nodes can be made up of any servers that meet the platform's requirements. The servers are not dependent on each other, so they can be configured independently to support different workloads. They can even run different hypervisors.

The intelligent software that runs on the compute node manages the data, controls I/O operations and delivers data services such as encryption, compression, data reduction and erasure coding.

The final layer consists of the data nodes, which run independently of the compute nodes. The data nodes can be made up of hard disks or flash drives. The compute nodes communicate with the data nodes over dedicated network links. The data nodes deduplicate the data at a global level and present it to the compute nodes as a single network file system.

Comparing infrastructure approaches

Composable infrastructure and open converged infrastructure share the common goal of delivering compute and storage resources as efficiently as possible, while simplifying management and ensuring an optimized, scalable environment. Beyond that, the two infrastructures differ in significant ways.

For example, composable infrastructure makes it possible to deploy applications on physical servers as well as within VMs or containers, whereas the OCI is limited to VMs or containerized workloads.

Composable infrastructure also offers a unified API for managing resources and integrating with third-party products, providing a greater degree of flexibility than open converged infrastructure, which uses a hypervisor for controlling the virtualized resources, similar to HCI. The API in composable infrastructure has the potential for incorporating a more diverse set of resources across a distributed environment, including the ability to abstract network components. OCI focuses primarily on abstracting compute and storage resources within a limited scope and is confined to a couple of integrated racks. At the same time, much of the potential advantages of composable infrastructure have yet to be proven out.

Even so, the API offers another important benefit: the ability to more easily provision resources to support various workloads. For example, administrators can define templates that allocate resources for a specific type of application, or developers can write preprogrammed scripts to provision infrastructure resources on demand. Open converged infrastructure is fairly limited in this regard.

Composable infrastructure also has the potential to be more scalable, based on the products currently on the market. For example, Datrium DVX can support only up to 1 petabyte (PB) of data storage, while Hewlett Packard Enterprise's composable infrastructure platform, Synergy, can support up to 24 PB.

On the other hand, current composable infrastructure offerings are more likely to lead to vendor lock-in. With products such as DVX, organizations can implement a wide range of commodity hardware. The composable infrastructure market is still fairly proprietary at this point, although that's likely to change as the infrastructure becomes more mainstream.

One thing that can be said about both infrastructures is that they're young technologies and, although they show a lot of promise, they've yet to realize their full potential. The OCI approach, as implemented by Datrium, does seem to be gaining its share of fans, but composable infrastructure has a greater potential when it comes to flexibility and its cloud-like provisioning, especially if it can break through the vendor lock-in barrier.

This was last published in November 2018

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