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In a previous blog, I talked about the challenges that organizations face in trying to deliver a public cloud experience for on-premises application infrastructure, and lessons learned from the smart infrastructure all around us in the consumer market.

I also explained in that blog that we deliver infrastructure software as-a-service from a cloud-based control plane, called Nebulon ON, via a server-embedded full offload engine. This offload engine, called a Services Processing Unit (SPU), is embedded in each clustered application server and controls the server’s own storage drives. Nebulon smartInfrastructure is server-embedded, infrastructure software delivered as-a-service.

This native cloud management of on-prem application infrastructure, enabled by server-embedded SPU technology, allows application, business, and infrastructure owners to obtain the benefits associated with self-service application infrastructure and zero-touch, remote infrastructure management-as-a-service for applications that must remain on-premises. The Nebulon smartInfrastructure solution can be cost-effectively deployed in a centralized data center, hosted, or at the edge, and is purchased directly through a customer’s existing server vendor of choice, including HPE, Supermicro and Lenovo.

In this blog, I will offer more details on the benefits of Nebulon smartInfrastructure so you can decide if it is right for your organization.

Control Plane: Delivering The Benefits of a Cloud Experience On-Prem

smartInfrastructure promises cloud control plane benefits in at least three areas: improved time to value, cloud-like operations, and an ability to leverage intelligence from the cloud. Let’s unpack these so you can judge whether your organization can benefit from smartInfrastructure.

Improved time-to-value. Through self-service infrastructure provisioning from a curated catalog of services for different applications, application and product owners can deploy and scale the infrastructure they need, when they need it, and exactly how they need it in 10 minutes or less—without help from the IT organization. The IT organization can contribute services to the catalog that meet the guidelines of their enterprise. This includes the provisioning of O/S and software packages, data volumes, and data services for selected compute nodes.

Cloud-like operations. The public cloud minimizes exposure to firmware and software maintenance of the underlying infrastructure. Similarly, Nebulon smartInfrastructure is delivered to customers as-a-service from the Nebulon cloud, and does not require customer maintenance. Most software updates are within the control plane itself, and occur in the Nebulon cloud in real time without user involvement. This is analogous to gmail—new features and other improvements are simply available the next time you login to the system. The on-prem infrastructure software components, including the data plane (SPU and server SSD firmware), are infrequent, lightweight and can be rolled out non-disruptively and enterprise-wide by a click of a button.

Furthermore, a single API with a single version in the cloud eliminates the complexity of automating traditional, heterogeneous on-prem infrastructure devices that run different versions of APIs, have multiple endpoints, and varying functionality. The Nebulon cloud-API works consistently and scales transparently with the size of customers on-prem infrastructure.

Leverage intelligence from the cloud. Nebulon’s cloud control plane, nebulon ON features both analytics as well as facilitates the command-flow of administrative actions. Analytics applies traditional and AI techniques to logs and performance and capacity metrics, and proactively recommends changes to the environment to ensure infrastructure keeps running at its best. The same analytics are used to influence administrative actions and prevent misguided or harmful actions on-demand, without the need to ship new software to customers.

Data Plane: Alternative Infrastructure Benefits Versus Hyper-Converged Infrastructure Software

HCIS is hyper-converged infrastructure software. It is built on software-defined storage (SDS) that runs directly on application servers and is delivered as a subscription-based product using a traditional enterprise management approach, sometimes assisted with cloud analytics. It consumes valuable application server memory, CPU and networking resources. HCIS is also limited to hypervisor-specific applications.

Nebulon smartInfrastructure is server-embedded, infrastructure software. It is built on data services embedded on a PCIe-based IoT endpoint (SPU) within application servers, and is delivered natively as-a-service from the nebulon ON cloud. smartInfrastructure offloads valuable application server resources and supports any type of application – containerized, virtualized or bare-metal – at any location, from core to edge.

By shifting data services out of the operating system and onto silicon embedded in the server means increased server density, broader application support, better data plane control and improved resilience. Let’s delve further into each of these.

Increased server density. With Nebulon smartInfrastructure, all enterprise-class shared and local block data services run on the Nebulon Services Processing Unit (SPU). This frees up considerable server memory, CPU and network resources that are otherwise consumed by HCIS implementations that use software-defined storage. Reduced server resource consumption means that Nebulon smartInfrastructure customers can purchase fewer application servers versus HCIS implementations and achieve their ‘densification’ objectives.

Broader native application support. The Nebulon SPU and its data services are accessed through the standard drivers available in common operating systems that run on off-the-shelf servers. This allows Nebulon smartInfrastructure to support any application type natively, whether it is containerized, virtualized or bare-metal, unlike HCI solutions which support hypervisor-specific applications only. For those organizations with virtualized applications today but considering containerized or bare metal applications in the future, smartInfrastructure represents a single platform that can be reprovisioned from one application type to another in minutes.

Better infrastructure endpoint management. The Nebulon SPU, which acts as a cloud-managed IoT endpoint embedded in each application server, forms a separate fault domain containing the SPU and application server storage media, including both data and boot drives. With the help of the SPU inside the application server, the Nebulon cloud can provide updates and patches for the application server and storage that covers operating systems and software, application software, and solid-state drive firmware, in addition to the enterprise-class shared and local data services running on the SPU.

HCIS uses an enterprise management plane, sometimes assisted with cloud-based analytics, which manages cluster-by-cluster. It does not have equivalent capabilities to provide efficient global fleet management of low-level infrastructure elements, including operating systems and SSD firmware.

Stronger Resilience. As long as a server continues to have access to power, the separate fault domain formed by the Nebulon SPU and each application server’s storage media means that shared data services in an application cluster can continue operating without disruption or reduced performance levels, even if a specific application server is suffering from software, CPU or memory failures, or are receiving maintenance of its operating systems, related software, or application stack. This is not the case for HCIS implementations which can suffer reduced performance and leave critical data unprotected in these circumstances.

Nebulon smartInfrastructure also completely masks data services software updates on the server. HCIS implementations will typically leave application data unprotected during such updates, then afterwards must resynchronize with partner nodes, negatively impacting performance.

Can Your Operations Benefit From Nebulon smartInfrastructure?

Faster results, less operational overhead, better service levels, all at lower cost—what is not to like, right? The real question is not if but when. Whether you are getting started with containers, modernizing your virtualization environment, or transforming at the edge—it’s a good time to take a look at how Nebulon smartInfrastructure can help. And since time is probably your most precious commodity, we won’t waste yours—30 minutes of free consulting with one of our solution architects can qualify whether your project can benefit from a smartInfrastructure solution or not.

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Craig Nunes


Previously 3PAR VP of Product & Marketing, then HPE VP of Global Storage Product Management & Marketing.