How the Composable Approach to IT Aligns Automation and Intelligence to Overcome Mounting Complexity
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How the Composable Approach to IT
Aligns Automation and Intelligence
to Overcome Mounting Complexity
A discussion on how pervasive and increasingly intelligent IT automation and composability help
conserve IT spend as well as attract hard-to-find strategic IT skills.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Hewlett
Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to the next edition of the BriefingsDirect Voice of
the Innovator podcast series. I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor
Solutions, your host and moderator for this ongoing discussion on the latest insights into
hybrid IT and composability.
Bringing higher levels of automation to data center infrastructure has long been a priority
for IT operators, but it's only been in the past few years that they have actually enjoyed
truly workable solutions for composability.
The growing complexities, from hybrid cloud and the pressing need for conservation of
IT spend -- as well as the need to find high-level IT skills -- means there is no going
back. Indeed, there is little time for even a plateau on innovation around composability.
Stay with us now as we explore how pervasive
increasingly intelligent IT automation and composability
can be. Here with us to help learn more about the role
and impact from comprehensive composability is Gary
Thome, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer for
Composable Cloud at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE).
Thome: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.
Gardner: Gary, what are the top drivers making
composability top-of-mind and something we’re going to
see more of?
Thome: It’s the same drivers for businesses as a whole, and certainly for IT. First,
almost every business is going through some sort of digital transformation. And that
digital transformation is really about transforming to leverage IT to connect with their
customers and make IT the primary way they interact with customers and make
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Digital transformation drives composability
With that, there’s a desire to go very fast, of rapidly getting connections to customers
much faster and for adding features faster via software for your customers.
The whole idea of digital transformation and becoming a digital business is driving a
whole new set of behaviors in the way enterprises run – and as a result – in the way that
IT needs to support them.
From the IT standpoint, there is this huge driver to say, “Okay, I need to be able to go
faster to keep up with the speed of the business.” That is a huge motivator.
But at the same time, there’s the constant
desire to keep IT cost in line, which requires
higher levels of automation. That automation --
along with a desire to flexibly align with the
needs of the business -- drives what we call
composability. It combines the flexibility of
being able to configure and choose what you
need to meet the business needs -- and
ultimately customer needs -- and do it in a
highly automated manner.
Gardner: Has the adoption of cloud computing models changed the understanding of
how innovation takes place in an IT organization? There used to be long periods
between upgrades or a new revision. Cloud has given us constant iterative
improvements. Does composability help support that in more ways?
How to Achieve Composability
Across Your Datacenter
Thome: Yes, it does. There has been a general change in the way of thinking, of
shifting from occasional, large changes to frequent, smaller changes. This came out of
an Agile mindset and a DevOps environment. Interestingly enough, it’s permeated to lots
of other places outside of IT. More companies are looking at how to behave that way in
On the technology side, the desire for rapid, smaller changes means a need for higher
levels of automation. It means automating the changes to the next desired state as
quickly as possible. All of those things lend themselves toward composability.
Gardner: At the same time, businesses are seeking economic benefits via reducing
unutilized IT capacity. It’s become about “fit-for-purpose” and “minimum viable”
infrastructure. Does composability fit into that, making an economic efficiency play?
Composability combines the
flexibility of being able to
configure and choose what you
need to meet the business
needs – and ultimately customer
needs – and do it in a highly
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Thome: Absolutely. Along with the small, iterative changes – of changing just what you
need when you need it – comes a new mindset with how you approach capacity. Rather
than buying massive amounts of capacity in bulk and then consuming it over time, you
use capacity as you need it. No longer are there large amounts of stranded capacity.
Composability is key to this because it allows you through technical means to gain an
environment that gets the desired economic result. You are simply using what you need
when you need it, and then releasing it when it’s not needed -- versus pre-purchasing
large amounts of capacity upfront.
Innovation building blocks
Gardner: As an innovator yourself, Gary, you must have had to rethink a lot of
foundational premises when it comes to designing these systems. How did you change
your thinking as an innovator to create new systems that accommodate these new and
Thome: Anyone in an innovation role has to always challenge their own thinking, and
say, “Okay, how do I want to think differently about this?” You can't necessarily look to
the normal sources for inspiration because that's exactly where you don't want to be.
You want to be somewhere else.
For myself it may mean looking at any other walk of life – from what I do, read, and learn
as possible sources of inspiration for rethinking the problem.
Interestingly enough, there is a parallel in the IT world of taking applications and
decomposing them into smaller chunks. We talk about microservices that can be quickly
assembled into larger applications -- or composed, if you want to think of it that way. And
now we’re able to disaggregate the infrastructure into elements, too, and then rapidly
compose them into what's needed.
Those are really parallel ideas, going after the
same goal. How do I just use what I need when I
need it -- not more, not less? And then automate
the connections between all of those services.
That, in turn, requires an interface that makes it very easy to assemble and disassemble
things together -- and therefore very easy to produce the results you want.
When you look at things outside of the IT world, you can see patterns of it being easy to
assemble and disassemble things, like children's building blocks. Before, IT tended to be
too complex. How do you make the IT building blocks easier to assemble and
disassemble such that it can be done more rapidly and more reliably?
Gardner: It sounds as if innovations from 30 years ago are finding their way into IT.
Things such as simultaneous engineering, fit-for-purpose design and manufacturing,
How do I just use what I
need when I need it – not
more, not less?
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even sustainability issues of using no more than you need. Were any of those
inspirations to you?
Cultivate the Agile mindset
Thome: There are a variety of sources, everything from engineering practices, to art, to
business practices. They all start swiveling around in your head. How do I look at the
patterns in other places and say, “Is that the right kind of pattern that we need to apply to
an IT problem or not?”
The historical IT perspective of elongated steps and long development cycles led to the
end-place of very complex integrations to get all the piece-parts put together. Now, the
different, Agile mindset says, “Why don’t you create what you need iteratively but make
sure it integrates together rapidly?”
Can you imagine trying to write a symphony and have 20 different people develop their
own parts? There’s separate trombone, or timpani, or violin. And then you just say,
“Okay, play it together once, and we will start debugging when it doesn’t sound right.”
Well, of course that would be a disaster. If you don’t think about it upfront, do you want
to develop it as-you-go?
The same thing needs to go into how we develop IT -- with both the infrastructure and
applications. That’s where the Agile and the DevOps mindsets have evolved to. It’s also
very much the mindset we have in how we develop composability within HPE.
How to Remove Complexity
From Multi-Cloud and Hybrid IT
Gardner: At HPE, you began bringing composability to servers and the data center
stack, trying to make hardware behave more like software, essentially. But it’s grown
past that. Could you give us a level-set of where we are right now when it comes to the
capability to compose the support for doing digital business?
Intelligent, rapid, template-driven assembly
Thome: Within the general category of composablity, we have this new thing called
Composable Infrastructure, and we have a product called HPE Synergy. Rather than
treat the physical data resources in the data center as discrete servers, storage arrays,
switches, it looks at them as pools of compute capacity, storage capacity, fabric
capacity, and even software capacity or images of what you want to use.
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Each of those things can be assembled rapidly
through what we call software-defined
intelligence. It knows how to assemble the
building blocks – compute, storage, and
networking -- into something interesting. And
that is template-driven. You have a template,
which is a description of what you want the end-
state to look like, what you want your
infrastructure look like, when you are done.
And the templates say, “Well, I need a compute of this big block or size. This much
storage, or this kind of network.” Whatever you want. “And then, by the way, I want this
software loaded on it.” And so forth. You describe the whole thing as a template and
then we can assemble it based on that description.
That approach is one we’ve innovated on in a lab from the infrastructure’s standpoint.
But what’s very interesting about it is, if you look at a modern cloud made up of
applications, it uses a very similar philosophical approach to the assembling. In fact, just
like with modern applications, you say, “Well, I’m assembling a group of services or
elements. I am going to create it all via APIs.” Well, guess what? Our hardware is driven
by APIs also. It’s an API-level assembly of the hardware to compose the hardware into
whatever you want. It’s the same idea of composing that applies everywhere.
Millennials lead the way
Gardner: The timing for this is auspicious on many levels. Just as you’re making
crafting of hardware solutions possible, we’re dealing with an IT labor shortage. If, like
many Millennials, you are of a cloud-first mentality you will find kinship with
composability -- even though you’re not necessarily composing a cloud. Is that right?
Thome: Absolutely. That cloud mindset, or service’s mindset, or asset-service mindset --
whatever you want to think of it as – is one where this is a natural way of thinking. The
younger people may have grown up with this mindset. It wouldn’t occur to them to think
any differently. And others may have to shift to a new way of thinking.
This is one of the challenges for organizations. How do they shift -- not just the
technologies or the tools -- but the mindset within the culture in a different direction?
You have to start with changing the way you think. It’s a mindset change to ask, “How do
I think about this problem differently?” That’s the key first thing that needs to happen,
and then everything falls behind that mindset.
It’s a challenge for any company doing transformation, but it’s also true for innovation --
shifting the mindset.
You have a template, which
is a description of what you
want the end-state to look
like, what you want your
infrastructure to look like
when you are done.
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Gardner: The wide applicability of composability is impressive. You could take this
composable mindset, use these methods and tools, and you could compose a bare-
metal, traditional, on-premises data center. You could compose a highly virtualized on-
premises data center. You could compose a hybrid cloud, where you take advantage of
private cloud and public cloud resources. You can compose across multiple types of
private and public clouds.
Thome: We think composability is a very broad, useful idea. When we talk to
customers they are like, “Okay, well, I’ll have my own kind of legacy estate, my legacy
applications. Then I have my new applications, and new way of thinking that are being
developed. How do I apply principles and technologies that are universal across them?”
The idea of being able to say, “Well, I can compose the infrastructure for my legacy apps
and also compose my new cloud-native apps, and I get the right infrastructure
underneath.” That is a very appealing idea.
But we also take the same ideas of composability and say, “Well, I would even want to
compose ultimately across multiple clouds.” So more-and-more enterprises are
leveraging clouds in various shapes and forms. They are increasing the number of
clouds they use. We are trending to hybrid cloud, where there are people using different
clouds for different reasons. They may actually have a single application that’s spanning
multiple clouds, including on-premises clouds.
When you get to that level, you start thinking, “Well, how do I compose my environment
or my applications across all of those areas?” Not everybody is necessarily thinking
about it that way yet, but we certainly are. It’s definitely something that’s coming.
How to Tame
Gardner: Providers are telling people that they can find automation and simplicity but
the quid pro quo is that you have to do it all within a single stack, or you have to line up
behind one particular technology or framework. Or, you have to put it all into one
particular public cloud.
It seems to me that you may want to keep all of your options open and be future-proof in
terms of what might be coming in a couple of years. What is it about composability that
helps keep one’s options open?
Thome: With automation, there’s two extremes that people wind up with. One is a great
automation framework that promises you can automate anything. The most important
thing is that you can; meaning, we don’t do it, but you can, if you are willing to invest all
of the hard work into it. That’s one approach. The good news is that there are multiple
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vendors with actual parts of the automation-technology total. But it can be a very large
amount of work to develop and maintain systems across that kind of environment.
On the other hand, there are automation environments where, “Hey, it works great. It’s
really simple. Oh, by the way, you have to completely stay within our environment.” And
so you are stuck within the confines of their rules for doing things.
Both of these approaches, obviously, have a very significant downside because any one
particular environment is not going to be the sum of everything that you do as a
business. We see both of them as wrong.
Real composability shines when it spans the best of both of those extremes. On the one
hand, composability makes it very easy to automate the composable infrastructure, and
it also automates everything within it.
In the case of HPE Synergy, composable management (HPE OneView) makes it easy to
automate the compute, storage, and networking -- and even the software stacks that run
on it -- through a trivial interface. And at the same time, you want to integrate into the
broader, multivendor automation environments so you can automate across all things.
You need that because, guaranteed, no one vendor is going to provide everything you
want, which is the failing of the second approach I mentioned. Instead, what you want is
to have a very easy way to integrate into all of those automation environments and
automation frameworks without throwing a whole lot of work to the customer to do.
We see composability strength in
being API-driven. It makes it easy
to integrate into automation
frameworks, but secondly, it
completely automates the things
that are underneath that
composable environment. You
don't have to do a lot of work to
get things operating.
So we see that as the best of those two extremes that have historically been pushed on
the market by various vendors.
Gardner: Gary, you have innovated and created broad composability. In a market full of
other innovators, have there been surprises in what people have done with
composability? Has there been follow-on innovation in how people use composability
that is worth mentioning and was impressive to you?
We see composability strength in being
API-driven. It makes it easy to integrate
into automation frameworks, but it
completely automates the things that are
underneath that composable environment.
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Thome: One of my goals for composability was that, in the end, people would use it in
ways I never imagined. I figured, “If you do it right, if you create a great idea and a great
toolset, then people can do things with it you can't imagine.” That was the exciting thing
One customer created an environment where they used the HPE composable API in the
Terraform environment. They were able to rapidly span a variety of different
environments based on self-service mechanisms. Their scientist users actually created
the IT environments they needed nearly instantly.
It was cool because it was not something that we set out specifically to do. Yet they were
saying it solves business needs and their researchers’ needs in a very rapid manner.
Another customer recently said, “Well, we just need to roll out really large virtualization
clusters.” In their case, it's a 36-node cluster. It used to take them 21 days. But when
they shifted to HPE composability, they got it down to just six hours.
Obviously it’s very exciting to see such real benefits to customers, to get faster with
putting IT resources to use and to minimize the burden on the people associated with
getting things done.
When I hear those kinds of stories come
back from customers -- directly or through
other people -- it's really exciting. It says
that we are bringing real value to people to
help them solve both their IT needs and
their business needs.
Gardner: You know you’re doing composable right when you have non-IT people able to
create the environments they need to support their requirements, their apps, and their
data. That's really impressive.
Gary, what else did you learn in the field from how people are employing composability?
Any insights that you could share?
Thome: It's in varying degrees. Some people get very creative in doing things that we
never dreamed of. For others, the mindset shift can be challenging, and they are just not
ready to shift to a different way of thinking, for whatever reasons.
Gardner: Is it possible to consume composability in different ways? Can you buy into
this at a tactical level and a strategic level?
Thome: That's one of the beautiful things about the HPE composability approach. The
answer is absolutely, “Yes.” You can start by saying, “I’m going to use composability to
do what I always did before.” And the great news is it's easier than what you had done
We are bringing real value to people
to help them solve both their IT
needs and their business needs.
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before. We built it with the idea of assembling things together very easily. That's exactly
what you needed.
Then, maybe later, some of the more creative things that you may want to do with
composability come to mind. The great news is it's a way to get started, even if you
haven’t yet shifted your thinking. It still gives you a platform to grow from should you
need to in the future.
Gardner: We have often seen that those proof-points tactically can start the process to
change peoples' mindsets, which allows for larger, strategic value to come about.
Thome: Absolutely. Exactly right. Yes.
Gardner: There’s also now at HPE, and with others, a shift in thinking about how to buy
and pay for IT. The older ways of IT, with longer revisions and forklift upgrades meant
paying was capital-intensive.
What is it about the new IT economics, such as HPE GreenLake Flex Capacity
purchasing, that align well with composability in terms of making it predictable and able
to spread out costs as operating expenses?
How to Achieve Composability
Across Your Datacenter
Thome: These two approaches are perfect together; they really are. They are hand-in-
glove and best buddies. You can move to the new mindset of, “Let me just use what I
need and then stop using it when I don't need it.”
That mindset -- and being able to do rapid, small changes in capacity or code or
whatever you are doing, it doesn’t matter – also allows a new economic perspective.
And that is, “I only pay for what I need, when I need it; and I don't pay for the things I am
Our HPE GreenLake Flex Capacity service brings that mindset to the economic side as
well. We see many customers choose composability technology and then marry it with
GreenLake Flex Capacity as the economic model. They can bring together that mindset
of making minor changes when needed, and only consuming what is needed, to both the
technical and the economic side.
We see this as a very compelling and complementary set of capabilities -- and our
customers do as well.
Gardner: We are also mindful nowadays, Gary, about the edge computing and the
Internet of Things (IoT), with more data points and more sensors. We also are thinking
about how to make better architectural decisions about edge-to-core relationships. How
do we position the right amount of workload in the right place for the right requirements?
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How does composability fit into the edge? Can there also be an intelligent fabric network
impact here? Unpack for us how the edge and the intelligent network foster more
Composability on the fly, give it a try
Thome: I will start with the fabric. So the fabric wants to be composable. From a
technology side, you want a fabric that allows you to say, “Okay, I want to very
dynamically and easily assemble the network connections I want and the bandwidth I
want between two endpoints -- when I want them. And then I want to reconfigure or
compose, if you will, on the fly.”
We have put this technology together,
and we call it Composable Fabric. I find
this super exciting because you can
create a mesh simply by connecting the
endpoints together. After that, you can
reconfigure it on the fly, and the network
meets the needs of the applications the
instant you need them.
This is the ultimate of composability, brought to the network. It also simplifies the
management operation of the network because it is completely driven by the need from
the application. That is what directly drives and controls the behavior of the network,
rather than having a long list of complex changes that need to be implemented in the
network. That tends to be cumbersome and winds up being unresponsive to the real
needs of the business. Those changes take too long. This is completely driven from the
needs of application down into the needs of the fabric. It’s a super exciting idea, and we
are really big on it, obviously.
Now, the edge is also interesting because we have been talking about conserving
resources. There are even fewer resources at the edge, so conservation can be even
more important. You only want to use what you need, when you need it. Being able to
make those changes incrementally, when you need them, is the same idea as the
composability we have been talking about. It applies to the edge as well. We see the
edge as ultimately an important part of what we do from a composable standpoint.
Gardner: For those folks interested in exploring more about composability,
methodologies, technologies, and getting some APIs to experiment with -- what advise
do you have for them? What are some good ways to unpack this and move into a proof-
Thome: We have a lot of information on our website, obviously, about composability.
There is a lot you can read up on, and we encourage anybody to learn about
composability through those materials.
You can create a mesh simply by
connecting the endpoints together.
After that, you can reconfigure it on
the fly, and the network meets the
needs of the applications the
instant you need them.
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They can also try composability because it is completely software-defined and API-
driven. You can go in and play with the composable concepts through software. We
suggest people try directly. But they can also go and connect it to their automation tools
and see how they can compose things via the automation tools they might already be
using for other purposes. It can then extend into all things composable as well.
I definitely encourage people to learn more, but specially to move into the “doing phase.”
Just try it out, see how easy it is to get things done.
Gardner: I’m afraid we will have to leave it there. We have been exploring how
pervasive and increasingly intelligent automation is bringing composability to more
aspects of IT. And we have learned how growing complexities from hybrid cloud and the
pressing need to conserve spend and skills are bringing a composability benefit to more
aspects of IT and digital business.
Please join me in thanking our guest, Gary Thome, Vice President and Chief Technology
Officer for Composable Cloud at Hewlett Packard Enterprise.
Thanks so much, Gary. I really enjoyed speaking with you.
Thome: Likewise, thanks, Dana, I appreciate the time.
Gardner: And a big thank you as well to our audience for joining this sponsored
BriefingsDirect Voice of the Innovator hybrid IT and composable infrastructure strategies
I’m Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host for this ongoing
series of Hewlett Packard Enterprise-sponsored discussions. Thanks again for listening.
Please pass this along to your IT community, and do come back next time.
Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Download the transcript. Sponsor: Hewlett
A discussion on how pervasive and increasingly intelligent IT automation and composability help
conserve IT spend as well as attract hard-to-find strategic IT skills. Copyright Interarbor Solutions,
LLC, 2005-2019. All rights reserved.
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