Is CXL the end of the boutique composable framework? • The register

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Compute Express Link (CXL) is often touted as the holy grail of composable framework for its ability to disaggregate processor system memory. With the first compatible processors just a few months away, one wonders: what will happen to GigaIO, Fungible or Liqid when CXL finally arrives?

Will these composable infrastructure devices scale and thrive, or will they be relegated to the scrap heap of tech vendors who had the right idea before the market was ready for it? And by composable infrastructure, we mean reimagining your computing resources as compute, storage, networking, and accelerator pools, and allocating them to workloads in the most efficient way on the fly, as needed. .

“For some of them,” said Tony Harvey, analyst at Gartner. The register“It won’t make much practical difference. If you’re a GigaIO, for example, you’re doing a PCIe switch, and you’re going to have to upgrade to PCIe 5.0, and you’re going to support CXL.”

While CXL may force these vendors to change and adapt, their investments in PCIe switching put them in a unique position to lead a new market segment for CXL switches, he added.

The idea being that eventually CXL switches will replace Ethernet switches for in-rack communications. This will allow customers to interface any number of disaggregated compute, memory or storage devices in the rack. In other words, the dream of a multi-vendor composable infrastructure fully realized.

However, the CXL-based composable framework is still years away. While CXL version 1.1 will debut with Intel’s Sapphire Rapids and AMD’s Genoa later this year, the switching and fabric capabilities needed to realize these composable infrastructure use cases won’t arrive until the launch of CXL 2.0 and silicon based on CXL 3.0.

The imminent birth of a CXL switching ecosystem?

In many ways, CXL represents more of an opportunity for vendors like Liqid, GigaIO, and Fungible than a threat. However, the technology will undoubtedly drive competition in the niche composable infrastructure market as major OEMs, such as Dell, HPE and Lenovo, begin to introduce their own CXL-based infrastructure.

As a result, Harvey predicts that many composable infrastructure vendors could be the target of acquisitions by OEMs looking to bolster their PCIe switching capabilities.

Alternatively, he said, PCIe switching could follow the path taken by Ethernet, with those composable infrastructure vendors eventually becoming the CXL equivalents of Arista, Juniper or Cisco.

This path is not without challenges and will heavily depend on vendors’ willingness to open their platforms to the kind of Ethernet-like standardization required for interoperability.

“To create this open market for PCIe switches, you’re going to have to be vendor independent and neutral, and also create this Ethernet-style world where people expect everything to work with everything else,” Harvey said. “I don’t care who made my network card or my switch. I plug them in and they work.

On the other hand, some vendors may double down on their proprietary architectures and create Infiniband’s CXL equivalent.

A broken future

CXL switching is likely to have much broader appeal than composable infrastructure, according to a recent report from Gartner, which predicted the segment to account for less than 10% of enterprise server spending through 2025.

“There are parts of the market where it fits and parts of the market where it doesn’t,” Harvey said. “In the high performance computing space and managed service providers or cloud providers, it’s a nice solution.”

They dial once, then use it for five years, then stop it

Most customers buying composable infrastructure today aren’t actually taking advantage of this composability in their day-to-day operations, he explained. “You talk to anybody, and they’ll tell you what they’re really doing is dialing it once, then using it for five years, then quitting it.”

This is partly because many enterprise applications are simply not designed to take advantage of composability.

“Is someone really going to take their Oracle ERP system, shut it down, scale the service it’s running on, and then restart that ERP system in order to take advantage of composability,” he said. . “The answer to that question is no.”

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in the modularity unlocked by these technologies.

“CXL has the opportunity to completely change the way we design servers. This is going to be really interesting in the market as we haven’t seen a server re-architect in years. We’re all still building 1U or 2U rack servers that look the same,” Harvey said. “CXL can change all that.”

So while companies can’t recompose their infrastructure on the fly, the ability to deploy large memory pools or other accelerators in a disaggregated fashion still has its appeal and presents an opportunity for companies like GigaIO, Liqid, Fungible and many others. sellers to tie them all together. ®

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