January 29, 2018

DriveScale to democratize composable infrastructure

A hot topic recently emerged on the market, the Software Composable Infrastructure aka SCI and the IT Press Tour had the privilege to meet and visit DriveScale, one of the few drivers of this industry trend.

The idea if this approach is justified by the business that needs agility and scalability inspired by public clouds. The main characteristic is well summarized by the term disaggregation with better compute and storage resources segregation and granularity, controlled by an intelligent software layer.

The goal of this data center approach is to increase resource utilization thus reducing cost, improving ROI, optimizing TCO with realtime dynamic provisioning to react to new, changing and modern workloads. In a nutshell, adopting a SCI philosophy offers a cloud-like IT operations and represents a new iteration towards fully automated data center.

You get the idea, SCI is the right term to describe an IT infrastructure controlled, designed and built dynamically by software.


SCI provides a transparent service for upper applications layers and no applications changes are required. From single, simple to complex horizontal scalability, SCI supports recent applications operating on Hadoop, Spark, NoSQL databases such Cassandra and containers as well. This is also interesting to see that a commercial approach is justified to control open source applications.

This new architecture is a new iteration towards disaggregation with better granularity tough to deliver with classic or recent tools.

Founded in 2013 by 2 SUN ex-employees Tom Lyon and Satya Nishtala, DriveScale illustrates the long time tag line of the workstation company i.e "The network is the computer". Finally SUN has in a sense anticipated it but never delivered at least at this level as what we live today was an utopia 10 or 15 years ago. They don't forget their past colleagues so it's not a surprise to see Scott McNealy, James Gosling and Whitfield Diffie as advisors. With 25 employees today, DriveScale is frugal with VC money as they raised "only" $18 million so far but clearly we can expect a new round in 2018.

The solution is organized around 4 components:
  • Adapter aka DSA, currently a SAS to Ethernet 1U appliance that bridge compute and storage resources. We expect a NVMe flavor in 2018.
  • Management Server aka DMS controls the rack SCI service and is available as bare-metal or VM Linux instances.
  • Agents are lightweight Linux processes running in user mode on servers controlled by DMS.
  • and Central is a cloud-based administration to control and manage deployments globally.
DMS receives infos from agents for servers and DSA for storage.


A RESTful API is provided to integrate the DMS service with deployed and famous data center tools.


An other way to see this IT Infrastructure approach is "Disag. (hardware resources) and Compose" a new logical computer different from classic virtualization or container mode. In fact these 2 services can reside above SCI to offer application independence and mobility.


A DriveScale cluster groups diskless stateless servers and JBOD thanks to the DSA. This key elements has 2 12Gb four-lane SAS interfaces and 2 10Gb Ethernet interfaces. Power supplies are redundant as well. 80 disk drives are supported and could deliver a throughput of 80GB per second. For servers, DriveScale supports 2U, 1U, 1/2U and 1/4U models hosting an Agent.

In term of licensing, one adapter per JBOD costs $10,000, node licenses is at $2,000 per logical node per year, drive $25 per year to reach approximately $106,000 the first year for 30 nodes and 300 disks and thereafter $76,000.

Key partners for DriveScale are Hortonworks, Cloudera, MapR, DellEMC, HPE, Arista, Cisco, SuperMicro, Quanta, Promise, Sanmina and Foxconn with several resellers such WWY, DellEMC or Promark.


This effort is a new example of vendors trying to adopt a cloud model and limit on-premise erosion. The industry has already addressed this movement with hybrid cloud as they realized that dollars are going elsewhere especially to the big 3 cloud service providers pockets. Again this is the direction of the industry. DriveScale will benefit from infrastructure vendors who try to delay this certain move. The company is leading this industry SCI wave with a pure independent solution. Clearly 2018 will be an interesting year to watch...
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