Data Center Strategy: Composability vs. Converged Infrastructure & HCI

Posted on December 12, 2020 by rawee.k

Choosing between software-defined architectures? Here’s what data center administrators need to know to compare composable infrastructure versus converged and hyperconverged infrastructure. Questions? Drop us an email at sales@pogolinux.com

Based on continually changing IT and business needs, composable infrastructure adoption by data-driven organizations has grown in an effort to unlock the full value of its technology investment. This focus on provisioning hardware into available compute, storage and networking resources, reduces underutilization and overprovisioning while creating a more flexible and agile data center. The approach of composability is similar to a public cloud in that hardware resources are requested and provisioned from shared capacity – except a software-defined composable infrastructure sits on-premises in an organization’s data center.

Previously, we covered what is composable infrastructure and how organizations can benefit from composability. Next, we’ll cover how data centers built with software-defined composable infrastructure architecture compare to ones based on converged and hyperconverged infrastructures (HCI).

Converged Infrastructure Overview

In a converged infrastructure environments, a pre-configured package of software and hardware are housed in a single, integrated software-defined architecture that has been optimized for hosted application performance, availability, and scalability. In addition to a simplified procurement process, converged solutions are easier to deploy, administer and manage than a traditional client-server approach with rackmount servers, network storage and network devices attached.

Data center users have typically deployed convergence to address a specific data center application or workload, such as server virtualization, databases or line-of-business applications. For virtualization, although converged infrastructure delivers performance gains due to compute, storage and networking being physically integrated, the management of those discrete resources often remains silo’d.

Convergence Management Challenges

While converged solutions help organizations bypass the integration and configuration steps required to deploy virtualized infrastructure, they often require administrators to use multiple interfaces to manage each converged resource. In addition, these offerings typically come at a premium price from name brand suppliers.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) Overview

Hyperconvergenced infrastructure (HCI) adds a deeper levels of abstraction while offering greater levels of integration and automation to simplify deployment and management.

A “hyperconverged” solution is any fully self-contained hardware and virtualization software that uses localized server compute and clustering, networking, and direct attached storage (DAS) to implement data resiliency. HCI solutions are “purpose-built” to implement a complete virtualized infrastructure. Software-defined elements are implemented virtually, with seamless integration into the hypervisor environment with the ability to move a computing workload from one host platform to another.

Accordingly, managing these systems is often a lot simpler. While converged systems consist of multiple components cabled together within a rack, hyperconverged resources are all pre-assembled within a single enclosure (compute, networking and storage).

HCI Scalability Limitations

While effective for specific workloads, hyperconverged doesn’t solve all an IT department’s workload needs. For instance, typical hyperconverged environments only scale to 20 or 30 nodes, which means it may not scale to the level that data center users are going to want to scale to. As a result of this scalability limitation, organizations may expand capacity by deploying additional modules, in order to keep pace with the uneven demands of virtualized environments.

With limited ability to disaggregate data center resources, hyperconverged systems can quickly become uneven, with some resources sitting idle while others are taxed to their limits. Without the ability to pool these high-value resources through software and adapt for changes in unpredictable, AI-driven workloads, the benefits of virtualization can be significantly diminished.

Composable Infrastructure Overview

Composable infrastructure – also called “disaggregated infrastructure” – takes the concept of both converged and hyperconverged a step further with more fluid approach to hardware resource pools by combining compute, storage and networking components into a single platform.

Composable infrastructure is the ability to connect compute, GPU, storage and networking into pools of resources that are provisioned through software APIs and network fabric, then deployed into bare-metal server nodes. In composable infrastructure environments, hardware resources can be composed into exact-sized system designs (including bare-metal) for each private cloud hosted application’s workload needs. This infrastructure architecture approach is similar to a public cloud where resource capacity is requested and provisioned from shared capacity – except composable infrastructure sits behind a corporate firewall on-premises in an organization’s data center.

The Difference is Dynamic Resource Sharing  & Flexible Provisioning

Like a converged or hyperconverged architecture, composable infrastructure environments combine compute, storage and network fabric into one platform, but it’s not preconfigured to address a specific workload. The physical assets are logically pooled, so that data center administrators don’t have to manually configure hardware resources to support a specific software application.

Composability makes it possible to dynamically share resources and provision rapidly compose a complex architecture of systems based on previously defined templates. Data center administrators have the ability to mix and match compute, networking, and storage from off-the-shelf commodity hardware into a software-defined architecture, which is a departure from the current method of building physical systems.

Choosing Between Software-Defined Architectures

Hosted applications drive the data center market and factor heavily into any purchasing decisions. Current and future applications, workloads and specific use cases must be considered along with performance and capacity requirements. In many scenarios, these technologies are complementary and together provide the right mix of features and flexibility.

For data center infrastructure and operations leaders, composability trades away the convenience of a purpose-built infrastructure offered by converged or hyperconverged, in exchange for the ability to deliver on-premises applications and services with the same speed and agility a public cloud.

Ultimately, a thorough understanding of the data center applications being run is required because it comes down to each organization’s data center needs. More than likely, the decision to deploy a composable infrastructure vs. a converged or hyperconverged infrastructure is not necessarily an either-or situation, as the answer will depends greatly on what data center operators are trying to accomplish.

Choosing the Right Composable Infrastructure Solution

The ability to accelerate time-to-market for digital products, or improve service-levels and project delivery times, is a competitive advantage that’s necessary for any data-driven organization. A comprehensive software-defined composable infrastructure framework can providers data center admins the ability to configure, manage and scale out physical bare-metal server systems in seconds.

Setting up a Composability Proof of Concept

Hosted applications will drive future adoption of composable infrastructure, and proof of concepts (POC’s) are the best way to evaluate a composability investment against a converged or hyperconverged environment. More often than not, the right solution for your data center is a mix of composability alongside a static architecture to experience the greatest platform flexibility, scalability, and unit economics.

IT decision makers should lay out rigorous performance, resiliency and scalability requirements. Additionally, knowledge of the hosted application requirements is necessary to ensure a POCs provide clear, decisive results. To objectively measure technology and operational benefits, it’s possible to start small and build out as you go. Most vendors composable infrastructure will happily help you set up a proof-of-concept solution to test out the design set-up that best meets your needs.

If you’d like to learn more about how to maximize your data center infrastructure by up to 90% while minimizing its footprint, give us a call at (888) 828-7646, email us at sales@pogolinux.com or book a time calendar to speak. We’ve helped organizations of all sizes deploy composable solutions for just about every IT budget.