82: GreyBeards talk composable infrastructure with Sumit Puri, CEO & Co-founder, Liqid Inc.

This is the first time we’ve had Sumit Puri, CEO & GM Co-founder of Liqid on the show but both Greg and I have talked with Liqid in the past. Given that we talked with another composable infrastructure company (see our DriveScale podcast), we thought it would be nice to hear from their  competition.

We started with a brief discussion of the differences between them and DriveScale. Sumit mentioned that they were mainly focused on storage and not as much on the other components of composable infrastructure.

[This was Greg Schulz’s (@storageIO & StorageIO.com), first time as a GreyBeard co-host and we had some technical problems with his feed, sorry about that.]

Multi-fabric composable infrastructure

At Dell Tech World (DTW) 2019 last week, Liqid announced a new, multi-fabric composability solution. Originally, Liqid composable infrastructure only supported PCIe switching, but with their new announcement, they also now support Ethernet and InfiniBand infrastructure composability. In their multi-fabric solution, they offer JBoG(PUs) which can attach to Ethernet/InfiniBand as well as other compute accelerators such as FPGAs or AI specific compute engines.

For non-PCIe switch fabrics, Liqid adds an “HBA-like” board in the server side that converts PCIe protocols to Ethernet or InfiniBand and has another HBA-like board sitting in the JBoG.

As such, if you were a Media & Entertainment (M&E) shop, you could be doing 4K real time editing during the day, where GPUs were each assigned to a separate servers running editing apps and at night, move all those GPUs to a central server where they could now be used to do rendering or transcoding. All with the same GPU-sever hardware andusing Liqid to re-assign those GPUs, back and forth during day and night shifts.  

Even before the multi-fabric option Liqid supported composing NVMe SSDS and servers. So with a 1U server which in the package may support 4 SSDS, with Liqid you could assign 24-48 or whatever number made the most sense  to that 1U server for a specialized IO intensive activity. When that activity/app was done, you could then allocate those NVMe SSDs to other servers to support other apps.

Why compose infrastructure

The promise of composability is no more isolated/siloed/dedicated hardware in your environment. Resources like SSDs, GPUS, FPGAs and really servers can be torn apart and put back together without sending out a service technician and waiting for hours while they power down your system and move hardware around. I asked Sumit how long it took to re-configure (compose) hardware into a new congfiguration and he said it was a matter of 20 seconds.

Sumit was at an NVIDIA show recently and said that Liqid could non-disruptively swap out GPUs. For this you would just isolate the GPU from any server and then go over to the JBoG and take the GPU out of the cabinet.

How does it work

Sumit mentioned that they have support for Optane SSDs to be used as DRAM memory (not Optane DC PM) using IMDT (Intel Memory Drive Technology). In this way you can extend your DRAM up to 6TB for a server. And with Liqid it could be concentrated on one server one minute and then spread across dozens the next.

I asked Sumit about the overhead of the fabrics that can be used with Liqid. He said that the PCIe switching may add on the order of 100 nanoseconds and the Ethernet/InfiniBand networks on the order of 10-15 microseconds or roughly 2 orders of magnitude difference in overhead between the two fabrics.

Sumit made a point of saying that Liqid is a software company. Liqid software runs on switch hardware (currently Mellanox Ethernet/InfiniBand switches) or their PCIe switches.

But given their solution can require HBAs, JBoGs and potentially PCIe switches there’s at least some hardware involved. But for Ethernet and InfiniBand their software runs in the Mellanox switch gear. Liqid control software has a CLI, GUI and supports an API.

Liqid supports any style of GPU (NVIDIA, AMD or ?). And as far as they were concerned, anything that could be plugged into a PCIe bus was fair game to be disaggregated and become composable.

Solutions using Liqid

Their solution is available from a number of vendors. And at last week’s, DTW 2019 Liqid announced a new OEM partnership with Dell EMC. So now, you can purchase composable infrastructure, directly from Dell. Liqid’s route to market is through their partner ecosystem and Dell EMC is only the latest.

Sumit mentioned a number of packaged solutions and one that sticks in my mind was a an AI appliance pod solution (sold by Dell), that uses Liqid to compose an training data ingestion environment at one time, a data cleaning/engineering environment at another time, a AI deep learning/model training environment at another time, and then an scaleable inferencing engine after that. Something that can conceivably do it all, an almost all in one AI appliance.

Sumit said that these types of solutions would be delivered in 1/4, 1/2, or full racks and with multi-fabric could span racks of data center infrastructure. The customer ultimately gets to configure these systems with whatever hardware they want to deploy, JBoGs, JBoFs, JBoFPGAs, JBoAIengines, etc.

The podcast runs ~42 minutes. Sumit was very knowledgeable data center infrastructure and how composability could solve many of the problems of today. Some composability use cases he mentioned could apply to just about any data center. Ray and Sumit had a good conversation about the technology. Both Greg and I felt Liqid’s technology represented the next step in data center infrastructure evolution. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

Sumit Perl, CEO & Co-founder, Liqid, Inc.

Sumit Puri is CEO and Co-founder at Liqid. An industry veteran with over 20 years of experience, Sumit has been focused on defining the technology roadmaps for key industry leaders including Avago, SandForce, LSI, and Toshiba.

Sumit has a long history with bringing successful products to market with numerous teams and large-scale organizations.

80: Greybeards talk composable infrastructure with Tom Lyon, Co-Founder/Chief Scientist and Brian Pawlowski, CTO, DriveScale

We haven’t talked with Tom Lyon (@aka_pugs) or Brian Pawlowski before on our show but both Howard and I know Brian from his prior employers. Tom and Brian work for DriveScale, a composable infrastructure software supplier.

There’s been a lot of press lately on NVMeoF and the GreyBeards thought it would be good time to hear from another way to supply DAS like performance and functionality. Tom and Brian have been around long enough to qualify as greybeards in their own right.

The GreyBeards have heard of composable infrastructure before but this was based on PCIe switching hardware and limited to a rack or less of hardware. DriveScale is working with large enterprises and their data center’s full of hardware.

Composable infrastructure has many definitions but the one DriveScale probably prefers is that it manages resource pools of servers and storage, that can be combined, per request, to create any mix of servers and DAS storage needed by an application running in a data center. DriveScale is targeting organizations that have from 1K to 10K servers with from 10K to 100K disk drives/SSDs.

Composable infrastructure for large enterprises

DriveScale provides large data centers the flexibility to better support workloads and applications that change over time. That is, these customers may, at one moment, be doing big data analytics on PBs of data using Hadoop, and the next, MongoDB or other advanced solution to further process the data generated by Hadoop.

In these environments, having standard servers with embedded DAS infrastructure may be overkill and will cost too much. For example., because one has no way to reconfigure (1000) server’s storage for each application that comes along, without exerting lots of person-power, enterprises typically over provision storage for those servers, which leads to higher expense.

But if one had some software that could configure 1 logical server or a 10,000 logical servers, with the computational resources, DAS disk/SSDs, or NVMe SSDs needed to support a specific application, then enterprises could reduce their server and storage expense while at the same time provide applications with all the necessary hardware resources.

When that application completes, all those hardware resources could be returned back to their respective pools and used to support the next application to be run. It’s probably not that useful when an enterprise only runs one application at a time, but when you have 3 or more running at any instant, then composable infrastructure can reduce hardware expenses considerably.

DriveScale composable infrastructure

DriveScale is a software solution that manages three types of resources: servers, disk drives, and SSDs over high speed Ethernet networking. SAS disk drives and SAS SSDs are managed in an EBoD/EBoF (Ethernet (iSCSI to SAS) bridge box) and NVMe SSDs are managed using JBoFs and NVMeoF/RoCE.

DriveScale uses standard (RDMA enabled) Ethernet networking to compose servers and storage to provide DAS like/NVMe like levels of response times.

DriveScale’s composer orchestrator self-discovers all hardware resources in a data center that it can manage. It uses an API to compose logical servers from server, disk and SSD resources under its control available, throughout the data center.

Using Ethernet switching any storage resource (SAS disk, SAS SSD or NVMe SSD) can be connected to any server operating in the data center and be used to run any application.

There’s a lot more to DriveScale software. They don’t sell hardware. but have a number of system integrators (like Dell) that sell their own hardware and supply DriveScale software to run a data center.

The podcast runs ~44 minutes. The GreyBeards could have talked with Tom and Brian for hours and Brian’s very funny. They were extremely knowledgeable and have been around the IT industry almost since the beginning of time. They certainly changed the definition of composable infrastructure for both of us, which is hard to do. Listen to the podcast to learn more. .

Tom Lyon, Co-Founder and Chief Scientist

Tom Lyon is a computing systems architect, a serial entrepreneur and a kernel hacker.

Prior to founding DriveScale, Tom was founder and Chief Scientist of Nuova Systems, a start-up that led a new architectural approach to systems and networking. Nuova was acquired in 2008 by Cisco, whose highly successful UCS servers and Nexus switches are based on Nuova’s technology.

He was also founder and CTO of two other technology companies. Netillion, Inc. was an early promoter of memory-over-network technology. At Ipsilon Networks, Tom invented IP Switching. Ipsilon was acquired by Nokia and provided the IP routing technology for many mobile network backbones.

As employee #8 at Sun Microsystems, Tom was there from the beginning, where he contributed to the UNIX kernel, created the SunLink product family, and was one of the NFS and SPARC architects. He started his Silicon Valley career at Amdahl Corp., where he was a software architect responsible for creating Amdahl’s UNIX for mainframes technology.

Brian Pawlowski, CTO

Brian Pawlowski is a distinguished technologist, with more than 35 years of experience in building technologies and leading teams in high-growth environments at global technology companies such as Sun Microsystems, NetApp and Pure Storage.

Before joining DriveScale as CTO, Brian served as vice president and chief architect at Pure Storage, where he focused on improving the user experience for the all-flash storage platform provider’s rapidly growing customer base. He also was CTO at storage pioneer NetApp, which he joined as employee #18.

Brian began his career as a software engineer for a number of well-known technology companies. Early in his days as a technologist, he worked at Sun, where he drove the technical analysis and discussion on alternate file systems technologies. Brian has also served on the board of trustees for the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology as well as a member of the board at the Linux Foundation.

Brian studied computer science at Arizona State University, physics at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as physics at MIT.