HP Enterprise Synergy servers: Flexibility for the cloud, but at what cost?

The Synergy line of servers uses a new hardware-level API for composing private and hybrid clouds, but cheaper software-only solutions may be good enough

HP Enterprise Synergy servers: Flexibility for the cloud, but at what cost?

If HP Enterprise builds the new hybrid cloud, will they come?

The company's plans for the cloud, announced last week, are to sell custom hardware geared specifically for running hybrid cloud workloads, and partner with Microsoft to provide Azure as a cloud environment. Today, HP Enterprise spelled out more details about the Synergy server line, which will perform such hybrid cloud work.

Flexible from the bottom up

Synergy offers a set of hardware-level APIs, dubbed Composable Infrastructure, that allows compute, storage, and fabric to be partitioned and repartitioned as demand dictates. The resulting fabrics created with Synergy systems can span multiple data centers, not only multiple racks of servers.

synergy storage HP Enterprise

A storage unit for HP's Synergy line of server hardware. Resources can be composed into flexible pools via APIs exposed in the hardware. API-aware software like Docker or Openstack can then manipulate the pools as needed.

To manage this "bare-metal interface for infrastructure-as-a-service" (per HP Enterprise), all users need is software that's aware of the Composable Infrastructure APIs. That includes Microsoft and its local Azure fabric, as well as container and VM management tools like Docker and OpenStack. Docker recently received a plug-in that allows it to leverage Composable Infrastructure with Docker Machine, Docker's tool for deploying containerized apps on a given cloud infrastructure.

Synergy allows for the quick rebuilding of infrastructure around changing business needs -- in seconds or minutes rather than hours or days. Another possible benefit is easier management of multitenancy, such as automatically grouping a given customer's VMs, in the vein of Amazon Dedicated Hosts.

For most, software alone might be enough

HP Enterprise's approach is hardware-dependent; the company supplies both the API description and the hardware that embodies it. The implication is commodity private or hybrid clouds, built with open source or proprietary software on top of off-the-shelf hardware, won't be a match for the Composable Infrastructure mix.

That's likely to be true at the high end of the market, and Composable Infrastructure hardware will appeal to people who create infrastructure for others -- in short, the kind of cloud vendor HP Enterprise itself was trying to be, once upon a time.

In theory, other companies could pick up a de facto standard and present their implementations of it in their hardware, in the same way Amazon's proprietary cloud APIs became standard. But the majority of enterprises may be fine with the level of composability provided by software on top of their existing hardware. Case in point: Mesosphere DCOS, which addresses many of the same issues of over- and under-provisioning HP Enterprise talks about.