HPE pushes toward autonomous data centre with InfoSight AI recommendation engine

InfoSight will also be rolled out for HPE's 3Par flash-storage customers, and eventually throughout the company's product line

Credit: Stephen Lawson

HPE is adding an AI-based recommendation engine to the InfoSight predictive analytics platform for flash storage, taking another step toward what it calls the autonomous data center, where systems modify themselves to run more efficiently.

The ultimate goal is to simplify and automate infrastructure management in order to cut operation expenses.

HPE acquired InfoSight as part of its $1 billion deal earlier this year for Nimble Software, a maker of all-flash and hybrid flash storage products. Along with the announcement of the new recommendation engine, HPE Tuesday also said it is extending InfoSight to work with 3Par high-end storage technology it acquired in 2010.

HPE says that is only the beginning of what it is doing to develop InfoSight's ability to monitor infrastructure, predict possible problems and recommend ways to enhance performance.

"What we plan to do is take that capability and provide it across the entire ecosystem of the business that HPE represents, which is hybrid IT and enterprise infrastructure," said Bill Philbin, senior vice president and general manager of  storage and big data solutions at HPE.

Though HPE was expected to extend InfoSight, it just closed the deal for Nimble in April. "What it shows is the aggressiveness with which HPE is going to move right now," said Steve McDowell, who now is an analyst covering storage technologies for Moor Insights & Strategy but worked for Nimble until the HPE acquisition.

 "It's not trivial to make that software work on 3Par and they did it in a few months; I think that speaks volumes to where HPE sees the future of the data center and where their competitive advantage might be," McDowell said.

HPE's software-defined IT and converged infrastructure product line

HPE is a leader in software-defined IT and converged infrastructure, and has moved quickly to integrate recently acquired technology with its established product lines. For example, HPE acquired SimpliVity in January for $650 million. Just two months later it announced that it had qualified SimpliVity's hyperconverged infrastructure appliance, the OmniCube, to run on HPE's ProLiant DL380 server.

HPE also offers the Synergy server line, which combines storage, compute and network equipment in one chassis. Synergy is an example of a flavor of software-defined IT called composable infrastructure, which treats hardware and storage infrastructure as fluid pools of resources deployed through software.

But HPE has competition. Cisco in July rolled out its new, M5 generation Unified Computing System rack and blade servers. Cisco says the complementary UCS Director software can provision, configure and automate 80 percent of data center operations from a single console. 

Another HPE rival, Oracle, unveiled its Autonomous Database Cloud, powered by the new Oracle Database 18c, last month. It's designed to use AI techniques to do self-maintenance, optimizing workloads, installing security patches and doing routine maintenance, Oracle Executive Chairman Larry Ellison boasted at the company's annual OpenWorld event.

In storage HPE also competes with Pure Storage and NetApp, both of which provide flash storage and predictive analytics technology. Flash storage, while more expensive per bit than hard disks, delivers data much faster while taking up less space and power.

HPE bought Nimble, whose stronghold was in flash arrays aimed at the midmarket, in part to complement 3Par flash technology aimed at higher-end enterprise systems. But the InfoSight predictive analytics platform was Nimble's "crown jewel,"  said Moor Insights & Strategy’s McDowell.

How InfoSight predictive analytics work

InfoSight collects infrastructure information from "call home" sensors and runs analytics against the massive amount of usage data it has accumulated over the years to detect patterns in order to predict, for example, when a user might run out of storage or when a storage device may exceed a certain input/output threshold. The sensors are in the storage devices themselves but also collect network, compute, and hypervisor data. 

HPE says that the InfoSight update goes beyond alerting users to potential, specific system failures, offering recommendations to more efficiently provision network storage systems and improve performance.

"We’re watching what's going on in the environment and we’re putting it through these expert systems using quite a lot of different AI and machine learning and data science techniques; the goal here is to tell the customer what to do to make the environment better," said Gavin Cohen, vice president of product and solutions marketing at HPE.

"So, we might notice that everything's running just fine, things are humming along, servers are working fine, applications are working fine but there’s an opportunity to get more performance if you were to move for example a virtual machine from one server, where there's extra contention, to another place,"  Cohen said.

More and more data will be available for InfoSight's AI algorithms as InfoSight gets deployed across 3Par and other HPE systems. So as HPE brings InfoSight across its product line it will also lay the foundation for autonomous data center infrastructure, where system tweaks are made automatically by the system itself. "It's not a big leap," Cohen said. "The hard work is what we're doing now."

Moor Insights & Strategy’s McDowell agrees that the groundwork for AI-enabled autonomous systems has been laid, but says it's debatable whether enterprises will want completely autonomous systems. "I’m skeptical that IT wants anything autonomous," McDowell says. "The customer wants to be notified and make a choice; they’d be terrified if you're shrinking and expanding their data."

However, as enterprise users become accustomed to AI-powered systems automation, there's likely to be less resistance, said HPE's Philbin.

Meanwhile, the version of InfoSight with the recommendation engine will be available to Nimble Storage customers with an active support contract at no charge in January. Also in January, InfoSight for 3Par will be available to 3Par customers with an active support contract for no additional charge.

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