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The future of composable infrastructure and virtualization

Composable infrastructures -- frameworks of compute, storage and network resource services -- will still make use of virtualization to run applications.

Composable infrastructures offer software-defined frameworks that are threatening to disrupt virtualization, but composable infrastructure and virtualization will persist together in a larger structure that includes both.

Server virtualization revolutionized application delivery and continues to play a pivotal role in hyper-converged infrastructures (HCIs) and software-defined data centers (SDDCs). However, not all applications are easy to virtualize, and many data centers only support workloads running on bare metal and in containers.

To achieve the flexibility IT teams need to support these workloads while maximizing resource utilization, some are turning to composable infrastructures. Composable infrastructures take a different approach to delivering compute, storage and network resources than virtualization. Traditional server virtualization isn't disappearing, but it's finding a role in a larger ecosystem that combines composable infrastructure and virtualization to deliver cloud-like capabilities while supporting a wider range of applications.

A composable infrastructure provides a software-defined framework to deliver compute, storage and network resources as a set of unified but independent services. A composable infrastructure disaggregates hardware components, combines them into logical pools and presents them as services that users can provision on demand to accommodate specific workloads.

A composable infrastructure enables IT administrators and DevOps teams to provision resources as quickly and efficiently as they could from a public cloud service, while also supporting workloads running in virtual environments, on bare metal or within containers. With a composable infrastructure, an IT team can start small and add equipment as needed to scale resources without having to overprovision some resources to accommodate others.

Software-defined intelligence that automatically handles resource provisioning and scaling is at the core of composable infrastructures. This software makes it possible to compose and decompose resources as needed without admins having to configure hardware and software when applications change or new ones are introduced. The management layer ensures that each workload has the resources it needs when it needs them.

A composable infrastructure delivers a complete software-defined platform that can run a wide range of applications. At the same time, it lowers administrative overhead and better utilizes hardware resources. A composable infrastructure can respond quickly to changing workload requirements while also enabling components to scale incrementally and independently, leading to lower capital and operating expenditures.

Advantages of composable infrastructure over virtualization

A composable infrastructure consists of three technology layers that together deliver pooled resources as services. The first layer is the hardware itself, which includes the components that make up the physical compute, storage and network resources.

Theoretically, the hardware may include any industry standard component, and those components can reside anywhere with reliable and secure network connectivity. In reality, most services don't yet support this level of flexibility, although this is the long-term goal.

The next layer is intelligent software that disaggregates and abstracts the hardware resources and organizes them into shared resource pools. This software determines how much capacity is available to each resource and adds that capacity to the resource pools, which appear as services to applications.

IT teams can program this software directly or implement templates to carry out repetitive tasks, which makes it easier to provision services and automate operations. This software composes the resources as needed and then decomposes them when they are no longer required, which returns the capacity to the shared resource pools so it's available to other applications.

The third layer is a unified, high-level API that provides a single interface to the software layer. This API enables admins to access, control, inventory, provision, diagnose and modify resources. IT can implement scripts or templates to deploy infrastructure and developers can add code to their applications that specifies the resources needed for the applications to run.

Composable infrastructure and virtualization differences

Server virtualization abstracts a server's physical compute resources and makes them available as logical resources within one or more isolated virtual environments. HCI services use virtualization and software-driven technologies to deliver compute, storage and, sometimes, network resources as unified systems.

An SDDC shares many of the same qualities as an HCI, but an SDDC offers more flexibility and greater orchestration capabilities to support policy-driven provisioning and management.

IT teams can program this software directly or implement templates to carry out repetitive tasks, which makes it easier to provision services and automate operations.

In all three cases, virtualization plays a key role in application delivery, with each system relying on hypervisor and VM technologies to abstract hardware and support workloads.

The composable infrastructure takes a different approach. It uses intelligent software to disaggregate the resources and combine them into resource pools that are available through a comprehensive API. This makes it possible to accommodate workloads running on bare metal, as well as those within virtual environments or containers.

However, it's important to note that composable infrastructures don't eliminate server virtualization. Composable infrastructure and virtualization will likely remain together because most application workloads currently run within virtual environments and will do so for some time.

An organization that implements a composable infrastructure will likely continue to run the majority of its applications within virtual environments. Those environments will soon be part of a larger composable infrastructure and virtualization combination that enables IT teams to run various workloads in a single unified system, simplifying management, easing deployments and better-utilizing resources.

Composable infrastructures won't replace server virtualization. Composable infrastructures will provide server virtualization with a new home so IT can deploy any VM, container or physical server from shared resource pools to accommodate varying workloads.

This was last published in September 2018

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