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IT on the fly: The future of composable infrastructure

To better compete in a fast-moving world, businesses need IT firepower within minutes, not weeks, of a request. Composable infrastructure gets them there.

Ted Levitt, the legendary Harvard Business School marketing professor, once said, “People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” This holds true more than ever in today’s fast-paced digital age.

C-suite leaders have long stifled yawns as their technical counterparts waxed eloquent describing IT tools such as computing capacity and server configuration. But talk to chief marketing officers about providing speedy, online ordering for customers during peak selling season or to chief financial officers about chopping time off a new product launch and you suddenly have their attention. Why? Because you’re speaking the language of business outcomes.

Partnering with business units to help them reach their goals is a far cry from the traditional support role IT plays. IT staffers must grapple with how to handle internal customers of every size and type—from marketers who are designing a customer portal to manufacturing chiefs who are trying to decipher the flood of data from machine sensors. To serve such diverse clients well, IT professionals need to know how the business works and provide the technological firepower to solve new challenges as soon as they arise.

In most cases, today’s legacy systems aren’t up to the task of providing speedy, flexible service. They lack the capacity to ramp up or down as business units start and stop projects—sometimes at a moment’s notice. Traditionally, it has taken IT departments days, weeks, or months to install new server hardware to accommodate the needs of internal business units. That won’t fly in today’s rapidly shifting markets.

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What companies need is an IT system that can automatically adapt to changing market demands without disrupting or delaying the organization’s workflow. This is where composable infrastructure (CI) comes in. Essentially, CI is an IT framework where computer processing, storage, and networks become a shared resource that can be accessed anytime, anywhere. In other words, the IT department can quickly “compose” or reconfigure its resources based on the needs of the business. The business gets and pays for only the IT resources it needs.

In a traditional IT infrastructure, computer processing, storage, and networks usually run on separate platforms. This division creates islands of hard-to-manage, underutilized resources. In contrast, CI pools resources for maximum efficiency and flexibility, much like a cloud computing model. When a business unit requires IT resources, a software developer can simply request the infrastructure capacity needed for a project by writing a single line of code. The extra capacity becomes available in not days, weeks, or months but minutes. When the business unit no longer requires as much IT firepower, that extra capacity gets “returned” to the pool. In essence, the job of the IT department is to orchestrate the ebb and flow of IT resources throughout the organization on a continual basis. 

How composability boosts your ROI

The beauty of CI is that it reduces the operational complexity for the IT department, which in turn lowers the total cost of ownership by reducing capital expenditure and operating expenses. Here’s how:

  • It covers multiple priorities simultaneously. With composability, management no longer has to choose between funding legacy applications that are business-critical and investing in new apps that can lead to innovation and growth. The CI environment is robust enough to support both at a lower cost than legacy systems.  
  • It moves IT from cost center to a business partner. If IT keeps functioning as a support cost center, the business will eventually turn to external suppliers to save money. With CI, IT has the tools to work with the business units to find creative ways to lower costs while improving service.
  • It allows more efficient management of resources. Apps have different requirements for computing, storage, and networking. For example, some apps require high-performance storage, while others have low-performance requirements. CI’s fluidity provides the right resources for an app at any one time, eliminating the waste that occurred in the traditional, siloed, static model. This translates to cost savings that can be used to fuel growth.

Strategically, CI allows you to compete in the digital age in a way traditional infrastructure never could. Bimodal IT, a term coined by research firm Gartner, is what most companies must deal with now—two modes of IT operating simultaneously. Mode one is the traditional, stable model that emphasizes safety and accuracy. Mode two is the wave of the future—meaning IT becomes exploratory and nonlinear, emphasizing agility and speed.

CI allows companies to function in both modes at the same time, adapting and changing to whatever the future holds. And that is what winning in the digital world is really all about—innovating on the fly.

Case study: HudsonAlpha

As creator of one of the world’s first genomic medicine programs designed to diagnose rare diseases, nonprofit HudsonAlpha wants to help eradicate childhood genetic disorders, cancer, and a host of other maladies. But to do that, it needed a more robust and flexible infrastructure, one that could handle the massive amounts of data that genomics research produces. The Huntsville, Alabama, organization generates more than one petabyte of data per month—roughly four times the size of the Library of Congress’ database. And as a nonprofit, it had to be able to crunch all this data while watching costs. Enter Peyton McNully, HudsonAlpha’s CIO.

McNully and his team found it increasingly difficult to provide researchers with the data they needed when they needed it. Part of the problem was that genomics algorithms and apps require extremely powerful computers. With roughly 800 researchers and scientists using the IT system to generate increasing amounts of genomics data, McNully knew the organization’s traditional infrastructure no longer had the firepower to meet the company’s needs. HudsonAlpha chose Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s composable infrastructure, Synergy, to address its challenges.

Now, since deploying Synergy, the organization can repurpose hardware rapidly and almost instantaneously provide software solutions. In addition, with Synergy, HudsonAlpha’s storage capacity increased and its cost per terabyte was reduced. Having resources that can be recapitalized for other efforts was obviously a huge driver for our decision to use Synergy,” McNully explains.

Now HudsonAlpha is positioned for a strong IT future with an infrastructure that can grow and flex as the organization does. And the organization is a step closer to finding cures for rare genetic diseases. 

IDC recently conducted a study on data center infrastructure and operations efficiency among medium-sized and large enterprises. Read their case for composable.

The business benefits of composable infrastructure 

From speed to market to improved employee productivity, CI can help organizations more easily achieve their business goals.

Business Goal

Composable Infrastructure Benefits

Beat competitors to market

Composable infrastructure reduces provisioning time from weeks to minutes. Its fast, automated, flexible consumption model delivers capacity ahead of demand.

Improve employee productivity

Because composable infrastructure uses automation, it minimizes human friction—reducing the chance of human error and freeing employees to focus on more strategic areas like innovation.

Optimize costs

Paying only for what is used provides companies with significant savings. Being able to repurpose IT resources from one project to another provides additional cost savings.

Improve customer experience

Composable infrastructure helps ensure the right resources are available during peak periods of customer need. For instance, a mobile banking app serving hundreds of thousands of customers may be far more taxed on the 15th day of the month when customers get their paychecks. With composable infrastructure, the spike is handled and then computing resources are returned to the lower levels of a typical day.

Secure proprietary and customer data

IT departments gain more control of their infrastructure in vulnerable areas like data centers that hold confidential customer information. Composability allows them to act speedily to protect privacy.

Composable infrastructure: Lessons for leaders

  • CI is an IT framework that enables resources to be quickly “composed” or reconfigured based on business needs. 
  • Unlike traditional IT infrastructure, CI pools resources for maximum efficiency and flexibility, much like a cloud computing model. 
  • CI lowers the total cost of ownership by reducing capital expenditure and operating expenses.

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The Art of Sizing Your IT Infrastructure

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HPE’s Recent Acquisition, Cloud Cruiser, Knows a Thing or Two About Managing Cloud Spend

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This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.