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Composable: The Future of IT Infrastructure?

With composable infrastructure, IT can provision on-premises infrastructure just as quickly and painlessly as public cloud resources can be acquired and deployed. Is composable IT the future of your business’s technical infrastructure?

What if your business could move its IT resources to an on-demand environment? That’s the promise of composable architectures. According to Boomi, 94% of CTOs surveyed are now using Composable Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) strategy to overcome the limitations of legacy applications and modernise their businesses to gain a competitive market advantage.

“The typical enterprise has, on average, 850 applications, of which only 30% are connected,” said Chris McNabb, CEO of Boomi. “The biggest challenge every business faces today is unifying their increasingly fragmented digital ecosystem so they can create the integrated experiences expected by customers, employees, and partners. Organizations that remove friction through fast, intelligent data discovery and cataloguing, pervasive connectivity, process integration, and automating human workflows are the ones best positioned to thrive as we move beyond the pandemic.”

Leading analyst firm Gartner suggests a focus on integration is critical: “ERP vendors will have to provide or partner with integration platforms in order to meet customers’ demands for increased integration capabilities,” Gartner wrote. “This is because ERP customers will empower business users to bring together applications and data to build business capabilities for their enterprise. Customers will engage multiple vendors, clouds and services to compose capabilities.” A composable IT approach does, though, have a far wider potential reach. Speaking to Silicon UK, Claus Jepsen, CTO, Unit4, also commented that a composable IT delivers the agile architecture business needs to thrive in a post-COVID-19 business environment. “It’s all about flexibility and creating more choices to solve different aspects of your business processes. Similar to a consumer choice mindset, composable architectures are like going to the supermarket and looking at the variety of food on the shelf. You have different products from different vendors, and as a composable developer you can start picking specific features or functions that match your requirements down to a very granular level. In reality I imagine individual vendors will start to produce more and more fine-grained functionality within their own application stack that solve specific domain and business problems, such as procurement, projects, financials and payroll.”

Jepsen continued: “If, in the future, vendors can agree a protocol for these composable applications to talk to one another, then best of breed will have an even easier path into enterprise application architectures. If individual components are standardized it will be much easier to switch them in and out of a composable architecture. This could have a dramatic impact on how enterprise applications are consumed and there will be even greater pressure on vendors to provide the feature-rich functionality that users want. Ultimately, it could lead to far more commoditisation of enterprise applications and redefine how vendors and customers assess value and ROI.”

New environments The challenge when adopting a composable approach is to evolve your enterprise’s technical services and understand how legacy technologies must also be integrated. Unit4’s Claus Jepsen advises taking a comprehensive and holistic approach to gain the most benefit from composable IT.

“Abstracting business processes from an individual application so that it can communicate with any other application is a large challenge for them to solve and today that doesn’t come for free,” says Andreas Rindler, Managing Director at BCG Platinion. “If you don’t have the integration enabling a truly plug and play approach, you’re placing huge burden on the customer, who will end up paying “the tax” to deal with the integrations and get it all to work together.”

The pandemic and the need to re-draw digital transformation roadmaps quickly is an ideal scenario for composable IT. Andreas Rindler continued: “Modern IT functions need to deliver agility to meet business demands, scale to support business growth and enable resilient and cost-effective operations.”

Composability enables enterprises to combine modular and interchangeable business and technology capabilities. This is key to having agile, resilient, and cost-effective operations, allowing the businesses to quickly and easily build, adapt, re-pivot and innovate. This delivers a high degree of flexibility, better resource utilization and lower infrastructure costs.

Paul Crerand, Field CTO EMEA at MuleSoft, also explained to Silicon UK: “The pandemic placed an unparalleled strain on businesses and exposed pre-existing problems with their IT infrastructure that made it difficult to respond quickly to changes. Data silos remain a challenge for 89% of organizations, and less than a third (28%) of an organization’s applications are integrated. With rigid point-to-point integrations, it is challenging to connect applications and data sources together or power new digital capabilities, leaving organizations struggling to adapt to the effects of the pandemic.

“By adopting an API-led approach to integration, businesses can re-imagine data and capabilities as a series of reusable ‘building blocks’, which can help quickly build new products and services. With this composable enterprise strategy, they can benefit from a far more flexible and agile operation – helping them to move forward from their past technology decisions and be better prepared for future uncertainty.”

Elastic compute

Composable IT is the foundation of what Gartner defined as the composable enterprise. Indeed, as companies forge a new path post-COVID-19, they know legacy systems and processes need to be swept away, favouring more agile services that stretch across their businesses and beyond.

BCG Platinion’s Andreas Rindler concludes: “The significant uncertainty and disruption caused by the pandemic has resulted in technology leaders accelerating the implementation of strategies and architectures designed to build agility, responsiveness and operational resilience into their infrastructure.

“A critical component of this is leveraging composable IT architectures and technologies to help deal with the ongoing and further expected disruption in the post-COVID-19 new normal. While the majority of investments by organizations would have still gone into private and public cloud, for more digitally mature organizations there will certainly have been an acceleration toward composable technologies.”

With Mulesoft’s Paul Crerand explaining why a new approach to digital services is needed: “In the UK alone, organizations saw an average increase of 21% in the number of digital projects they needed to deliver this year. IT leaders increasingly realise that their teams cannot keep pace with these mounting demands unless the task of digital innovation is shared more widely with other teams.

“The shift to a composable enterprise strategy underpinned by reusable assets like APIs is key to their ability to share this responsibility,” Crerand continued. “By re-imagining IT systems and data sources as a network of reusable capabilities that can quickly be composed, decomposed, and recomposed into different services, anyone in the business can build new digital projects without writing starting from scratch each time, or writing a single line of code.

“Switching to a composable enterprise strategy also allows businesses to “fail fast” to accelerate their digital transformation roadmap. This means that it is easy to trial new third-party innovations, and simply ‘unplug’ them if they don’t work or deliver the desired outcome. This flexibility to trial new solutions – whilst leaving room for error – is a key benefit of a composable enterprise model, and the value of this has been underlined by the pandemic. APIs have emerged as an effective catalyst for digital transformation, which is more important as businesses begin to build back from the damage caused by the pandemic.”

Having the ability to provision infrastructure when it is needed, is a powerful paradigm. As hybrid cloud deployments of services, advanced lean DevOps and the continued shift to agile business processes, no enterprise can afford not to adopt some level of composable technology within their IT strategic planning.

Silicon in Focus

Toby Skerritt, Principle Architect at Foundation IT.

Toby Skerritt is Principal Architect at Foundation IT. Established in 1996, Foundation IT works with forward-thinking organizations looking to maximize the benefits from their IT infrastructure. Its Managed IaaS and Azure IaaS solutions and services are designed for people that believe their IT Infrastructure should be consumed as a service. 

Can you briefly explain how composable architectures differ from cloud and hybrid deployments?

“Composable environments separate the elements which comprise a service (for example, computer, storage, networking) into individually managed components. This approach was pioneered with virtualization, but subsequent advances have allowed us to treat infrastructure as code and manage the separate elements via APIs. This frees applications from ties to specific hardware configurations and allows for a more cost effective, flexible service.”

What is driving the development of composable IT architectures?

“Cost pressures and the adoption of Agile approaches to application development have driven the development of composable solutions, whereby services can be scaled dynamically without significant downtime and changes can be pushed through development, test and production deployments without the need for significant disruption.”

What are the key challenges business face when building and using composable IT architectures?

“Adopting a composable IT solution can be a significant change to traditional IT management practices. The main challenge any business will face is ensuring your staff have the required skills to manage the services and platforms they control. Ownership should also be considered. In a traditional monolithic deployment, the service owner and IT team would be responsible for ensuring the application was performing as required, however within a composed environment there could be additional layers of ownership to consider.”

How do composable IT architectures connect with cloud and hybrid data centre deployments that might be in place?

“The services should be considered as complementary. Indeed, most cloud services offer composition services through API and infrastructure as code deployment options. Connectivity between the services must be considered and management responsibility should be tightly assigned, but the services will happily co-exist. Organizations should carefully review any overlapping services or responsibilities that exist prior to deployment.”

Has the pandemic accelerated the shift to composable technologies?

“The pandemic has accelerated the shift to numerous technologies. Composable solutions allow multiple individuals and teams – often working from home – to contribute to and improve services through API-based management. This approach allows for the deployment of upgraded features or bug fixes, often without the need for any service interruption or down time.”

Is composable IT now a core component of the re-shaping of many businesses’ digital transformation roadmaps?

“Absolutely. Developers have been working in this way for longer than most other elements of the IT community. However, the tools are now available to the IT management world to build, manage and enhance core infrastructure services in a composable manner.

“The move from on-premises or hosted ‘monolithic’ IT deployments to lightweight, Infrastructure-as-code based environments is perhaps the greatest change we have seen for IT departments since the advent of server virtualization. It requires a significant change in the way organizations approach the creation and management of IT resources, and it should be planned carefully to ensure the respective IT teams understand these changes and gain the skills required to support the business.”

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