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Bare-metal cloud means more flexibility at a cost

Businesses face the challenge of finding the right cloud for their needs. With the ability to customize software for unique app requirements, bare-metal cloud may be the best option.

In a crowded cloud market, differentiation is everything. Cloud service providers seek common themes to generate...

new customers and grow revenue. Bare-metal cloud is one such differentiator, offering flexibility and the ability to host high-performance applications. But is it right for your enterprise?

Unlike typical cloud services, bare-metal clouds come with hardware, not software. It has no operating system (OS), virtualization or applications. Enterprises need to configure the cloud platform themselves, which has its advantages and disadvantages.

Flexibility is one major advantage of bare-metal cloud's customization. Businesses with unique application requirements can configure the platform to meet their specific needs. Because of how the server is sequestered, bare-metal cloud can also offer better performance than traditional cloud services. Research shows that bare-metal cloud servers run 10% to 50% faster than hypervisor-based, multi-tenant cloud platforms.

With multi-tenant cloud, companies put multiple virtualized workloads on a shared physical server to increase overall resource use. However, different apps compete for the same processor and memory resources. The worst-case scenario is that computing resources are not available when needed.

Virtualizing cloud workloads also takes a toll on performance. Hypervisor tax is the amount of processing capacity the hypervisor layer consumes. Despite virtualization, service providers improved the software layer to make it thinner. But hypervisors still consume a percentage of the server's available processing power. The tax negatively affects performance for workloads that require large amounts of capacity.

The hypervisor, like each additional software layer, delays the system. Even though these delays are only milliseconds, they create problems with high-I/O, sensitive workloads.

In a shared cloud service, workloads fluctuate; slower application response times occur when an app encounters a noisy neighbor or another customer gobbling up system resources. Bare-metal cloud only runs one application, which eliminates the noisy neighbor issue.

Bare-metal cloud also enables rapid deployment. Bare-metal servers can be deployed quickly because they lack much of the infrastructure software.

Application use cases for bare-metal cloud

High-volume, high-performance workloads and big data applications are suited to bare-metal deployments. These apps are disk I/O-intensive, so traditional servers and storage systems struggle to keep up with these high volume and velocity requests.

Media encoding for user-generated content, such as social networking and video sharing, is a good application to run on a bare-metal cloud. When a user uploads a video, it must be transcoded into a common format for viewing. Transcoding software for audio and video is processor-intensive, which degrades performance if it's located on the same machine as the Web server or used in a multi-tenant environment.

Compliance regulations also push certain enterprises to use bare-metal clouds. Verticals such as finance, government and healthcare must follow strict guidelines for storing, managing and sharing data. Shared infrastructure, such as public cloud, creates uncertainty regarding data security because the customer does not control the infrastructure or the other apps. A bare-metal cloud gives enterprise IT more control over the data center infrastructure.

High performance equals high prices

Despite all of the benefits and use cases listed for bare-metal cloud, cost may deter the average enterprise from its use. Bare-metal cloud services generally are more expensive than hypervisor-based cloud services. Vendors cannot recoup infrastructure investments among a bevy of customers because the charges go solely to the firm using the bare-metal cloud.

Although many enterprises use bare-metal services for private cloud apps, a number of public cloud service providers are moving into the space. IBM’s SoftLayer is a bare-metal service that runs CentOS, Red Hat, FreeBSD and Ubuntu OSes; it bills customers on an hourly basis. Rackspace OnMetal is a single-tenant bare-metal product that uses OpenStack APIs.

About the author:
Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in cloud computing issues. Based in Sudbury, Mass., Korzeniowski has been covering technology issues for more than two decades and can be reached at paulkorzen@aol.com.

This was last published in October 2014

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There will be a place for Bare-Metal for certain specialized workloads, but the rapidly pace of Moore's law HW changes and options for either Hypervisor-based or Docker-based Linux containers, cloud providers will offer all of these at different price points. Providers like Digital Ocean are already offering this mix.
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