Disaggregation beyond the buzz
Disaggregation has surfaced as a buzzword, especially after HPE announced their HPE Nimble Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI). Many storage vendors are following suit, releasing disaggregated infrastructures one after the other. It does seem that this is just another hyped up technology trend but this one’s different; there’s more to it.
Companies who introduced disaggregated infrastructure for their data storage solutions, besides HPE, include:
Disaggregation actually promises to simplify a number of processes for data center owners and data center administrators. But before we discuss the processes that are now simpler with disaggregated infrastructure, let’s first clarify disaggregation and disaggregated infrastructure.
Simplifying disaggregation and disaggregated infrastructures
Disaggregation in the context of data center infrastructure/data storage infrastructure means dedicating different hardware chassis for different key components. As opposed to integrated infrastructure that combines everything in a single “storage box”, disaggregated infrastructure comprises of different “storage boxes” or hardware independent chassis for the compute and storage.
In an integrated appliance architecture, the Storage Controller (SC) - the compute and manage part of the server - and the storage drives are packed inside the single chassis; including the RAID Controller (RC), if it’s installed.
The disaggregated infrastructure puts the SC and the storage drives in two different chassis. If there’s an RC in the storage system, then there are two different approaches to it; some put the RC with the storage drives while others put the RC in a different chassis as well. The latter approach is actually pretty unique and rare at this time; not a lot of vendors are doing it.
Furthermore, instead of a single SC, disaggregated infrastructures have two SC chassis.
Benefits of disaggregated infrastructure
There are three main reasons why disaggregated infrastructure possesses a lot more potential in simplifying data center operations, as opposed to integrated infrastructure.
Full control of storage infrastructure
Traditional storage infrastructure comes with fixed configurations of compute, storage and RAID (if installed). When setup, the data center owner is limited by the compute capabilities or storage capacities of the integrated infrastructure. If they need additional storage or more compute power, they have to setup another integrated appliance. Disaggregated eliminates said limitations and put the data center owner in full control of their storage infrastructure. Data center owners can add more compute or storage individually or add both if needed.
Ease of maintenance and scalability
In a single storage box, it’s difficult to replace a component if it fails. If an SC fails, users have to repair or replace the server. However, disaggregated infrastructure enables users to change an SC effortlessly. Similarly, it’s equally easy to add more SCs or storage expansion units if they need more compute or storage capacity.
Better performance, no bottle necks
The two SC chassis in the disaggregated infrastructure deliver hardware independence, redundancy, fault-tolerance and a multi-path access to the storage drives. This prevents bottlenecks for CPU cycle and IOPS and supports performance. The two SCs deliver 2x performance compared to integrated appliance architecture.
How to take full advantage of the disaggregated infrastructure?
Disaggregated infrastructure promises easier scalability, maintenance and performance for data centers. But whether or not you’re able to take full advantage of the disaggregated infrastructure depends on which Operating System (OS) you choose and the vendor you buy it from.
Operating System (OS)
Without a purpose-built OS, data center administrators cannot fully tap into the capabilities of the disaggregated hardware.
The chosen OS has to be software-defined so that it decides the capabilities of the configured hardware. Similarly, it has to be a hardware agnostic solution, so that compatibility isn’t an issue either. You don’t want your data centers to struggle with compatibility issues and you don’t want to lock yourself in with the capabilities of the hardware.
Therefore, it’s best to use an OS that’s built for the disaggregated infrastructure.
Some examples of capable software-defined data management solutions for disaggregated infrastructure are IBM Spectrum Storage, HPE’s software and StoneFly's software-defined storage virtualization solution SCVM™.
Disaggregated infrastructure vendor
Of course the chosen vendor is always important. This holds true for disaggregated infrastructure too. As a data center owner, you need to make sure that the vendor you choose isn’t just the brand that everyone’s talking about. It has to be a vendor that’s capable of delivering as per your requirements.
Furthermore, support really matters a lot. You don’t want to wait in queue for days just for them to listen to what you have to say. It helps to choose a vendor who has the expertise, the tools, and the patience to help you on your journey from aggregated to disaggregated infrastructure.
Full utilization demands virtualization: go for hyperconverged infrastructure
Besides having the right OS and choosing the right vendor, one of the best ways to fully utilize your data center servers is to virtualize them. By combining the strengths of virtualized environments and software-defined storage solutions, data center owners can fully utilize their compute and storage capabilities.
Disaggregation simplifies data center scalability. Data center administrators can seamlessly add storage and compute individually. This makes it a very useful architecture with a place in the future of data center infrastructures.
If you’re a business building your data center, then you really need to look into disaggregated infrastructure options. And if you’re a data center administrator, then the next expansion you’re thinking of needs to have disaggregated infrastructure in it.
The future of data center infrastructure is only easier and simply more efficient with disaggregated infrastructure as a part of it.