How automation and orchestration tie together the composable infrastructure

The latest generation of composable infrastructure implementations gives companies the advantages of the physical infrastructure with the benefits of on-demand capabilities and capacity. Payoffs include budget savings, greater business agility, and enhanced security compliance.

Popular discussion often assumes that cost, security, or perhaps legacy compatibility are the only reasons to favor a physical data center over the public cloud. The real story is subtler. The latest generation of composable infrastructure implementations gives the user the advantages of the physical infrastructure with the benefits of on-demand capabilities and capacity.

The surest handle to the slippery chore of grasping composable infrastructure is to focus on the role of orchestration. While this requires wrestling with multiple challenging abstractions, the payoffs include budget savings of up to 50 percent, greater business agility, and enhanced compliance with security regulations or goals.

What is composable infrastructure?

A decision in favor of composable infrastructure is only the start of a long process of analysis. Composable infrastructure has great business potential that becomes real only when products are carefully matched to business strategy.

The technical definition is straightforward enough: a framework or architecture where the traditional data center resources of compute, storage, and networking are managed as pooled services rather than physical units. Services and developers making use of IT resources no longer need to be concerned about the physical availability of individual hardware devices. A conventional IT department buys and maintains disk arrays and blades, for instance. Moving to composability means focusing on logical scale. The knowledge that certain resources are available is all that is necessary, and leaving the details of where a particular datum is processed or stored to the composable infrastructure.

Does that mean composable infrastructure is just private cloud? No, they're related but distinct. Composable infrastructure is infrastructure as a service that an organization owns and hosts. While it's natural to build a private cloud—or several individual ones—on such an infrastructure, composable infrastructure adopters are more likely to embrace hybrid cloud models.

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Higher-order operations

Other common terms heard when discussing composable infrastructure are infrastructure as code, software-defined data center, IT as a service, and hyperconverged infrastructure. While all these capture part of the composable infrastructure story, hyperconvergence spotlights the application programming interfaces (APIs) that make IT resources truly manageable.

A hyperconverged infrastructure provides a consistent interface for the consolidated management of all computing resources. A composable infrastructure allows you to program that interface so it has the intelligence and scalability to support business goals. There is also a difference of scale between hyperconverged and composable infrastructures. The hyperconverged market is built around specific types of hardware and has relatively limited scalability when compared with composable infrastructure, which is mainly defined by software.

One consequence: Composable infrastructure's potential only benefits organizations ready to operate at that higher level of abstraction. Composable infrastructure enables organizations to spin up new applications automatically, migrate them, measure them, and more.

"Hybrid" operations are a common theme among successful adopters of composable infrastructure, which allows them to combine private cloud and public cloud or DevOps-oriented agility with legacy reliability.

All this goodness arrives only when the organization manages IT at a higher level. It's not enough just to install composable infrastructure; the organization must change its habits to realize the benefits of composability. The technical manifestation of those changed habits is orchestration.

Orchestration defined

In essence, orchestration is higher-order automation. In the IT infrastructure context, we automate the provisioning of a new virtual machine (VM), the definition of a subnet, the assignment of user accounts, the creation of file shares, and so on.

Orchestration automates higher-order business processes such as policy enforcement, alignment of workflows to business goals, and centralized management of pooled IT resources, as well as costing and planning processes.  "Everything must be API-driven," says Gary Thome, vice president and chief technologist for HPE Converged Datacenter Infrastructure.

Consider a hierarchy of benefits. At a base level, selecting composable infrastructure provides a framework for the acquisition of IT assets. When you buy a blade, for example, it slides into a physical rack and also into a pool of managed IT resources. In this use case, the cost savings are incremental at best.

Automatic provisioning lowers costs by 10 to 20 percent, mostly through higher human productivity and elimination of errors or inconsistencies. This level of automation creates a private cloud where capacity for individual projects is ubiquitous and rapidly adjustable.

Higher-order automationorchestrationtakes cost savings to the 50 percent range compared with model three-year comparisons for Amazon Web Services charges, according to Thome. 

The big payoff

Beyond budget savings, composable infrastructure delivers significant agility and resilience benefits. "It's not just the bottom line of costs, but the top line of new customers and velocity," Thome says. At its best, orchestration lets you manage IT resources using business metrics such as time to market and cost per lead, rather than terabytes of storage or VM count.   

Thome emphasizes that DevOps and composable infrastructure work together naturally. The best of the current generation of developers grew up with the cloud as their natural computing home. For them, the features of composable infrastructure are as standard a workplace baseline as working air conditioning and a favorable mass-transit location.  

"Software is still eating the world," writes TechCrunch contributor Jeetu Patel. Modern apps thrive in the well-orchestrated environment of composable infrastructure. In the airline industry, for example, incremental revenues come from software-defined services such as in-flight wireless delivery and expedited luggage handling. To achieve these higher-order benefits, IT must get orchestration right.

Lessons for leaders: Composability is the future

  • Composable infrastructures simplify the process for developers.
  • Orchestration simplifies linking the IT process to the business need.
  • Composability reduces costs for IT and provides better control over expenses.

Related links: 

Composable Infrastructure for New Data Center Technology Practices

Data Efficiency: Four Points to Consider When Choosing Hyperconverged