Western Digital Are Keeping Composed

Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 18.  My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event.  Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.

Western Digital recently presented at Storage Field Day 18. You can see videos of their presentation here, and download my rough notes from here.

 

Getting Composed

Scott Hamilton (Senior Director, Product Management) spoke to the delegates about Western Digital’s vision for composable infrastructure. I’m the first to admit that I haven’t really paid enough attention to composability in the recent past, although I do know that it messes with my computer’s spell check mechanism – so it must be new and disruptive.

There’s Work To Be Done

Hamilton spoke a little about the increasingly dynamic workloads in the DC, with a recent study showing that:

  • 45% of compute hours and storage capacity are utilised
  • 70% report inefficiencies in the time required to provision compute and storage resources

There are clearly greater demands on:

  • Scalability
  • Efficiency
  • Agility
  • Performance

Path to Composability

I remember a few years ago when I was presenting to customers about hyper-converged solutions. I’d talk about the path to HCI, with build it yourself being the first step, followed by converged, and then hyper-converged. The path to Composable is similar, with converged, and hyper-converged being the precursor architectures in the modern DC.

Converged

  • Preconfigured hardware / software for a specific application and workload (think EMC Vblock or NetApp FlexPod)

Hyper-Converged

  • Software-defined with deeper levels of abstraction and automation (think Nutanix or EMC’s VxRail)

Composable

  • Disaggregated compute and storage resources
  • Shared pool of resources that can be composed and made available on demand

[image courtesy of Western Digital]

The idea is that you have a bunch of disaggregated resources that can be really used as a pool for various applications or hosts. In this architecture, there are

  • No physical systems – only composed systems;
  • No established hierarchy – CPU doesn’t own the GPU or the memory; and
  • All elements are peers on the network and they communicate with each other.

 

Can You See It?

Western Digital outlined their vision for composable infrastructure thusly:

Composable Infrastructure Vision

  • Open – open in both form factor and API for management and orchestration of composable resources
  • Scalable – independent performance and capacity scaling from rack-level to multi-rack
  • Disaggregated – true disaggregation of storage and compute for independent scaling to maximise efficiency, agility snd to reduce TCO
  • Extensible – flash, disk and future compassable entities can be independently scaled, managed and shared over the same fabric

Western Digital’s Open Composability API is also designed for DC Composability, with:

  • Logical composability of resources abstracted from the underlying physical hardware, and
  • It discovers, assembles, and composes self-virtualised resources via peer-to-peer communication.

The idea is that it enables virtual system composition of existing HCI and Next-generation SCI environments. It also

  • Future proofs the transition from hyper-converged to disaggregated architectures
  • Complements existing Redfish / Swordfish usage

You can read more about OpenFlex here. There’s also an excellent technical brief from Western Digital that you can access here.

 

OpenFlex Composable Infrastructure

We’re talking about infrastructure to support an architecture though. In this instance, Western Digital offer the:

  • OpenFlex F3000 – Fabric device and enclosure; and
  • OpenFlex D3000 – High capacity for big data

 

F3000 and E3000

The F3000 and E3000 (F is for Flash Fabric and E is for Enclosure) has the following specification:

  • Dual-port, high-performance, low-latency, fabric-attached SSD
  • 3U enclosure with 10 dual-port slots offering up to 614TB
  • Self-virtualised device with up to 256 namespaces for dynamic provisioning
  • Multiple storage tiers over the same wire – Flash and Disk accessed via NVMf

D3000

The D3000 (D is for Disk / Dense) is as follows:

  • Dual-port fabric-attached high-capacity device to balance cost and capacity
  • 1U network addressable device offering up to 168TB
  • Self-virtualised device with up to 256 namespaces for dynamic provisioning
  • Multiple storage tiers over the same wire – Flash and Disk accessed via NVMe-oF

You can get a better look at them here.

 

Thoughts and Further Reading

Western Digital covered an awful lot of ground in their presentation at Storage Field Day 18. I like the story behind a lot of what they’re selling, particularly the storage part of it. I’m still playing wait and see when it comes to the composability story. I’m a massive fan of the concept. It’s my opinion that virtualisation gave us an inkling of what could be done in terms of DC resource consumption, but there’s still an awful lot of resources wasted in modern deployments. Technologies such as containers help a bit with that resource control issue, but I’m not sure the enterprise can effectively leverage them in their current iteration, primarily because the enterprise is very, well, enterprise-y.

Composability, on the other hand, might just be the kind of thing that can free the average enterprise IT shop from the shackles of resource management ineptitude that they’ve traditionally struggled with. Much like the public cloud has helped (and created consumption problems), so too could composable infrastructure. This is assuming that we don’t try and slap older style thinking on top of the infrastructure. I’ve seen environments where operations staff needed to submit change requests to perform vMotions of VMs from one host to another. So, like anything, some super cool technology isn’t going to magically fix your broken processes. But the idea is so cool, and if companies like Western Digital can continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with the infrastructure, there’s at least a chance that things will improve.

If you’d like to read more about the storage-y part of Western Digital, check out Chin-Fah’s post here, Erik’s post here, and Jon’s post here. There was also some talk about dual actuator drives as well. Matt Leib wrote some thoughts on that. Look for more in this space, as I think it’s starting to really heat up.