Dan's Take

Buzzword Alert: Composable Infrastructure

A new word for an old technology.

Recently a new buzzword, "Composable Infrastructure," has been making the rounds. It's been seen in blogs and announcements made by Cisco, HP Enterprise, Dell and Red Hat. I'm sure that if I made a detailed search, it would turn up in many other places, too.

The first time I heard this buzzword, I wondered what it meant. Composable, after all, refers to offering IT developers and operations staff the ability to easily create many different things out of a set of common components. I imagine Lego blocks are the vision these suppliers are trying to get across.

When this word is used with "Infrastructure," I believe they're speaking about the trend to encapsulate (or virtualize) functions and services that are part of an application, so that they can:

  • Be easily and quickly assembled
  • Be managed programmatically
  • Be agile, easily moved from place to place or replicated to address a varying workload. They can be managed individually as services, or together as distributed workloads

Hmmmm. That sounds like the definition of another buzzword. "Software-defined" vendors have been using it to describe virtualization technology for access, applications, processing, networking and storage recently. Is this proposed buzzword helpful in describing the industry evolution to a more virtualized, "component-ized" environment, or just another stab at creating an artificial marketing advantage?

What's the Buzz?
Often, a vendor or a research firm comes up with a new buzzword in the hopes of better defining what's occurring in the industry. For the most part, however, it refers to a minor evolution in the underlying technology rather than something strikingly new. Only a few of these attempts to float a new buzzword are successful.

Vendor Supplied
When a single vendor is the source of the buzzword, it's typically a bold marketing tactic. The vendor is doing what everyone else is doing, but wants to be seen as unique and innovative. So they'll develop a new way of referring to the technology everyone is building in the hopes of gaining some competitive advantage by using a different term. In their sales presentations, they'll point out that they've gone beyond X (the old name for the technology) to Y (their newly-coined name for the same technology). I can just hear the vendor representative saying, "That makes us better than the other folks. Buy from us."

Research Supplied
When a research firm is the source of the buzzword, it typically serves two purposes: first, to accurately depict observed industry trends in their published research; and second, to claim intellectual ownership of the trend.

Later, they'll be able to boast that "We were the first to use the phrase x.  All the other research firms using our name are industry followers rather than thought leaders like we are."

The analyst(s) that first used the buzzword will proudly add an entry to their resume pointing out that he/she/they are the source of a broadly accepted phrase. They'll be able to claim that since they originated the phrase, they know more about the topic than anyone else and will be able to say "buy research from me."

Dan's Take: Silly, But Effective
Although I personally find it a bit silly, coming up with a new buzzword seems to be a time honored and successful marketing technique. As an example, consider the transition from "distributed" to "client/server" to "Web-based" to "service oriented" to "cloud-based computing." Does it change anything? The buzz changes, but the technology -- not so much. Beware of falling for these empty phrases.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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