What Is Composable Infrastructure?

Composable infrastructure is an approach to data center architecture that decouples high-performance applications and workloads from the underlying hardware. A composable data center infrastructure creates pools for data center resources based on where they will run most effectively at the moment.

Storage, computing, and networking resources traditionally ran on the servers that had been specifically configured for them in data centers. Multiple architecture revisions have been made to data centers, including converged and hyper-converged infrastructures, intended to make IT resources run more efficiently and quickly. Composable infrastructure has a similar purpose.

Benefits of Composable Infrastructure

Composable infrastructure, also referred to as composability, is a software-defined method of disaggregation. Disaggregation in a data center abstracts resources from hardware so that they’re connected to each other through the network fabric instead. Software-defined infrastructures allow resources and applications to be managed through programs rather than by the hardware on which they sit.

A designated API or software platform, called a composer, prepares hardware so that IT teams don’t have to manually configure and provision every aspect of the architecture. The composer distributes resources into pools depending on the need at the moment.

That responsive redistribution—which also enables flexibility and scalability—is one of the reasons composability is becoming popular: data centers need applications to move to a new environment if they aren’t running well in their existing one. This might mean that, when one server goes down, the storage pool is immediately moved to another server.

The software-defined pools created through composability are able to run on all hardware within the infrastructure because the composer software manages how workloads run on the available servers. Composable infrastructure is designed so that applications and workloads can run on bare-metal servers.

Composable infrastructure, then, makes all network, storage, and compute resources available over the data center network. Instead of only being accessible through one computer, server, or silo, they are virtualized. Composability reduces silos within IT infrastructures.

Composable systems typically run on premises, which make them cheaper than standard public clouds. They’re advantageous for businesses that still need legacy applications to run well on the existing servers in their office.

Difference Between Composable, Hyper-Converged, and Converged Infrastructures

These three modern data center infrastructures have some similar goals—bringing resources together while also making them more flexible—but achieve those with varying levels of success.

Converged infrastructure, designed as a more flexible alternative to traditional IT infrastructure, was intended to bring all necessary IT resources into one system. That includes computing, networking, and storage components. It doesn’t entirely do away with silos, but it’s convenient for businesses that want pre-configured or pre-installed systems.

In converged infrastructure, the vendor’s configuration recommendations typically recommend where resources are placed within the data center. The entire converged system is often purchased as both hardware and software—servers and all resources come together. This means that all aspects of the infrastructure work well, but it also means risking vendor lock-in.

Hyper-converged infrastructure is similarly intended to combine compute, network, and storage components within a data center, but the infrastructure is virtualized. A hyper-converged system is abstracted from the underlying servers, which requires hypervisors.

Hyper-converged infrastructure typically uses x86 servers. It requires some configuration, and to scale out the infrastructure, administrators must install more nodes within it. Hyper-converged infrastructure is intended to be highly scalable.

Composable infrastructure differs from both in its disaggregation. Instead of being bound to hardware or a hypervisor, composable computing, networking, and storage resources connect to the network fabric rather than one server. The composer software moves resources to pools dependent on the need at the moment.

Converged infrastructure helps data centers manage their IT resources in one infrequently changing system. Hyper-converged infrastructure is a virtualization solution for businesses that need to scale their computing resources. Composability is an ideal solution for data centers that have fast-changing application and workload needs.

Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps is a contributor for Enterprise Mobile Today, Webopedia.com, and Enterprise Storage Forum. She writes about information technology security, networking, and data storage. Jenna lives in Nashville, TN.

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