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Bare metal clouds: what's happening and why now?

By August 22, 2019Article

John Leonard, Research Editor at Incisive Media, takes us on a refresher course of bare metal clouds and where they sit in the market place today on

What is bare metal cloud?

Virtualised cloud infrastructure is provisioned, managed and automated via an API. Bare metal clouds have no virtualisation software or operating systems, but the idea is exactly the same.

The lack of a hypervisor means that multitenancy is no longer an option, but there are gains to be had in terms of performance. Oracle boasts its hosted bare metal servers are up to five times faster than similarly specified virtual machines under certain workloads, a claim that’s supported by some reviews. (This performance boost is not just down to the lack of virtualisation though: bare metal instances from cloud vendors often come with high-end NVMe local storage attached).

It is easier to customise bare metal servers than VMs, as the machine’s CPU, memory and storage are not obscured by virtualisation layers. And because they are single tenancy, ‘noisy neighbour’ problems caused by surges in demand from other VMs sharing the same server do not occur, the benefits being better security and more consistent performance.

Bare metal clouds can be set up in private data centres too. This used to be a difficult job, but the task has been simplified by the arrival of software such as Ironic. Derived from OpenStack Nova, Ironic can be used independently of that platform to co-opt individual servers into a cloud. According to project team lead and engineer Julia Kreger it “makes physical machines look like VMs”. Incidentally, Rackspace uses Ironic to deliver its bare metal cloud services.

What’s driving the interest in bare metal cloud?

Why are we starting to hear more about bare metal now? In part, it’s the maturity curve, with more understanding of the issues and increasing numbers of providers and projects offering viable solutions, including big players like IBM and Oracle and also OpenStack. There are more concrete use cases too.

Machine learning and big data analytics

Data scientists favour GPUs and FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) for real-time, low-latency, data-intensive analytics, but these devices are difficult to virtualise. Bare metal clouds allow such hardware to be pooled and provisioned automatically and to provide consistent performance.

The rise of containers

For today’s cutting-edge developer, fashion dictates that applications be written as microservices and that those microservices be housed in containers. Optionally those containers can also be orchestrated by Kubernetes. Either way, containers run happily in bare metal clouds with no need for heavyweight VMs. Box is one company that runs Kubernetes on a bare metal cloud.

Ready for the enterprise?

While bare metal cloud has matured to the point that its readily available as a service from major cloud vendors particularly for rehoming enterprise apps, standards, usability and interoperability of are still lacking compared with more familiar virtualised services. However, it’s surely just a matter of time before bare metal clouds come rolling down from the likes of CERN, Box, eBay and Verizon to more everyday organisations.


Read John Leonard’s full article on, here.

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