TFDx @ DTW ’19 – Get To Know: Liqid


Overview

It’s been said that innovation begets innovation, and Liqid has developed a very interesting composable platform that builds upon recent developments in the areas of interconnect and fabric technology. But before we get into the technical specifics, let’s quickly touch on a few of the drawbacks of traditional infrastructure that composable solutions look to improve upon:

  • Procuring, deploying, and managing datacenter infrastructure is labor-intensive and can be complex.
  • Bespoke configurations, common lack of centralized management and automation capabilities can impact consistency and reproducibility.
  • Statically-configured resources can be over or under utilized, either leading to performance issues or preventing maximum return on investment.
  • Operations teams responsible for said infrastructure can struggle to be as responsive as their application owners and developers would like.

Composable solutions, on the other hand, take a building-block based approach, where resources are implemented as disaggregated pools and managed dynamically through software.

Depending on which vendor you ask, the definitions of “composable” and “disaggregated”, as well as the types of resources available for composition, will vary. The common theme here is that we are moving away from static configurations toward a systems architecture that is dynamically configurable through software.

Liqid, as you will see, has a very different take on composability than HPE and Dell, but that doesn’t mean HPE and Dell hardware can’t be part of the Liqid solution. Thus their presence at Dell Tech World 2019, I suppose. 🙂

At its core, their solution consists of three primary components: the Fabric, the Resources, and the Manager. We’ll take a closer look at these next.

The Fabric

What is the self-described “holy grail of the datacenter fabric” that makes the Liqid approach to composability possible? Infiniband? No. It’s not Ethernet, either. It’s PCIe.

Liqid argues that because PCIe currently is, and has been, leveraged heavily in modern CPU architectures, it is uniquely positioned to connect compute to peripheral resources across a switched fabric. This architecture decision allows Liqid to avoid additional levels of abstraction or protocol translation, which at a minimum keeps things more elegant.

At its core, the fabric is powered by a 24-port PCI Express switch, with each port being capable of Gen3 x4 speeds. This equates to a per-port bandwidth of 8GB/s full-duplex and a total switch capacity of 192GB/s full-duplex. Devices can be physically connected via copper (MiniSAS) or Photonics, proving some flexibility in connecting the required resources.

Overall, the approach of using a native PCIe fabric allows Liqid to be one step closer to true composability than the bigger players, because a larger number of resource types can be pooled and dynamically allocated. More on this in a moment.

Overview of disaggregated resources and their relationship to the Liqid PCIe fabric.

The Resources

In reading over the benefits of available composable systems, it’s easy to get the impression that compute, network and storage resources are the only relevant resource types. HPE Synergy, as an example, introduces hardware resources in the form of an improved blade chassis (frame) with abstracted, virtual networking and internal storage presented over an internal SAS fabric.

Resources can be dynamically and programmatically managed, but the scope of the sharing domain is limited to the frame. Although this limits flexibility, there are still a number of benefits to HPE Synergy vs. a traditional architecture. This is just one interpretation of what composable should look like.

Liqid takes a different approach and deploys pools of resources using commodity hardware attached to their PCIe switch fabric. Because of the use of PCIe, a number of additional resource types are available for composition, including GPU’s, NVMe storage, FPGA’s and Optane-based memory. Compute resources are provided by commodity x86 servers containing both CPU and RAM. This additional flexibility is a primary differentiator for Liqid vs. the other available composable solutions.

Commodity resources attached to x86 compute over the Liqid PCIe fabric

The Manager

Bringing the solution together is the management component, the Liqid Command Center. This provides administrators with a way to graphically and programmatically create systems of the desired configuration using compute, storage, network and other resources present on the fabric. In short, the features you’d expect to be present are here, and it looks like some attention has been paid to the style of the interface. A brief demonstration is available on YouTube and gives a good preview of the look/feel and capabilities:

Wrap-Up

Although there’s a significant amount of marketing fluff to sift through at times when looking into composable solutions, I don’t believe composability is just another meaningless throw-around term.

There are benefits to be had, both on the technical and operational side of things. Based on my initial research, the Liqid approach appears to be a step in the right direction. However, achieving true composability looks to be a work in progress for all solution vendors.

I look forward to talking with the Liqid team about that point and more this Wednesday 5/1/19 at TFDx. Check out the live stream at 13:30 using the link below, and feel free to send your questions via Twitter using the hashtag #TFDx and #DellTechWorld.

https://techfieldday.com/event/delltechworld19/



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