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Western Digital’s Manfred Berger on the disaggregation of the data centre

Thu 5 Mar 2020 | Manfred Berger

WD is flexing its storage muscles with a new composable infrastructure platform

Underpinning today’s data revolution are data architectures which define how data is stored, arranged, managed and used.

With the rise of data-intensive applications such as AI and analytics and the deluge of unstructured data brought about by IoT, there is a growing need for more efficient and flexible data architectures so that organisations can keep data centre costs low and increase speed, agility and time-to-value for data initiatives.

On top of these business requirements, companies are also facing louder calls to reduce environmental impact. All of these factors call for a new breed of IT infrastructure that handles data more quickly, smartly, and efficiently.

An imperfect mix

The problem with existing servers is that the hardware resources that comprise them are “fixed”. Although servers are being asked to crunch a variety of data-heavy workloads, memory, storage and networking do not currently adapt to these workloads’ particular requirements. This often leads to suboptimal performance, whether that’s overprovisioning, strained or underutilised resources.

So when it comes to making investment decisions, IT managers often discover they have either over or under spent in certain hardware areas. For large cloud-scale data centres, this translates to damaging costs and inefficiencies and ultimately impacts customer satisfaction and retention. A proposed solution to this problem is composable infrastructure:

“Composable infrastructure is where compute, network and storage resources can be disaggregated into shareable pools of storage capacity to scale independently and incrementally as needed to meet business needs,” explains Manfred Berger, Senior Manager, Business Development, Platforms, at Western Digital. The data storage giant recently launched its OpenFlex composable infrastructure platform and is seeing encouraging uptake in the European market.

With composable infrastructure, software becomes the orchestrator that pulls the appropriate resources together in line with workload requirements. This way, expensive accelerators that are only necessary for cutting-edge AI workloads enter a shared pool, called upon as and when they’re needed, instead of being installed on every data centre rack.

While other companies are working on composable compute, GPU and FPGA modules, Western Digital is beginning its disaggregation journey by sticking to its roots and implementing OpenFlex for one of the costliest data centre resources — flash-based storage. Berger calls the achievement a “major step towards software-defined storage”.

The beauty of this software-based shift is that best in class flash storage like NVMe becomes less of an expense, as flash resources become fully utilised and available to applications and servers regardless of physical location.

As Berger explains, OpenFlex “puts NVMe storage directly onto the fabric” meaning that no extra servers are needed. He claims that IT managers can reduce TCO by up to 40 percent compared to hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) – which actually serves to reinforce resource rigidity by replicating the same hardware mixes many times across the data centre.

Although OpenFlex currently supports flash storage, Western Digital said it will consider extending the architecture to Capacity-enterprise HDDs in the future to appeal to a wider range of enterprise customers.

Move big and fast

While the ultimate goal of a completely disaggregated centre is far off, the gains that composable storage affords are remarkable in themselves. Any CIO presiding over data-heavy HPC or AI applications — or what Berger calls “big and fast data” — will find their head turned by latency well below that of local SAS SSDs and bandwidth of close to 10GB/s per drive.

And by basing OpenFlex on an open architecture and API, Western Digital hopes its architecture will be at the core of much of tomorrow’s hyperscale workloads:

“Western Digital is committed to enabling an open, standards-based ecosystem to composable infrastructure to help accelerate customer adoption,” he says. “Western Digital’s business is storage in all its forms. We develop everything we do within industry standards and where necessary we’ll be driving this standard.”

Berger says several software firms are already developing storage orchestration tools and managers based on the Open Composability API, that provide interfaces to a range of applications. He adds that containerised applications are particularly benefiting from shareable data resource pools that “enable parallel data processing at high speed and at scale”.

At Big Data World 2020, Berger will be diving deep into composable infrastructure and what this means for the future of the data centre. “Western Digital enables a dramatic improvement in compute and storage utilization, performance, and agility in the data centre,” he says. “Come and see us, we’d like to hear about your needs and challenges and discuss how our solutions can help you meet your storage needs.”

Experts featured:

Manfred Berger

Senior Manager, Business Development, Platforms
Western Digital


composable infrastructure storage western digital
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