While many of the benefits of the cloud come from the ability to run workloads and operating systems using virtualization, bare metal cloud, which operates servers without virtualization, supports a number of important use cases. Providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure deliver this physical infrastructure for big data applications, which leverage bare metal cloud to support faster throughput & processing, more consistent performance, and greater efficiency in price-to-performance.
Bare metal cloud is a service where a customer rents hardware resources, such as a dedicated server, in a non-virtualized environment, from a cloud or platform provider. This service delivers a high-performance, secure, single-tenant, isolated network to run compute intensive workloads at scale.
Dgtl Infra provides an in-depth overview of bare metal cloud, including its implications for workloads relying on compute and memory (servers), as well as networking and storage. Additionally, we review examples of the leading bare metal cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.
What is Bare Metal Cloud?
Bare metal cloud is a service where a customer rents hardware resources, such as a dedicated server, networking, and storage from a cloud or platform provider. The hardware resources are provisioned without virtualization, meaning no abstraction layer (or hypervisor) sits between hardware and applications.
In contrast, traditional cloud computing services support multiple users, workloads, and operating systems concurrently by utilizing virtualization to share the same physical server. As such, a common challenge faced by traditional cloud computing is resource contention, which is caused by sharing and occurs when multiple users attempt to access the same compute resources through a single source.
Fundamentally, bare metal cloud utilizes dedicated servers to separate compute resources, enabling the full processing potential of a physical server. In turn, bare metal cloud resolves issues like resource contention. Therefore, users can benefit from the elasticity of the public cloud, while maintaining the granular control, security, and predictability of on-premise infrastructure.
Overall, bare metal cloud is particularly well-positioned to deliver a high-performance, highly available, secure, single-tenant, isolated network to run compute intensive workloads at scale.
The value proposition of bare metal cloud aims to provide a standardized service to facilitate workload-specific instances. One example of bare metal cloud’s standardization is the use of off-the-shelf bare metal servers, which replace specialized and proprietary hardware.
What is a Bare Metal Server?
A bare metal server is simply another way of referring to a physical server which is for the exclusive use of a single tenant. Examples of bare metal server suppliers are Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), NVIDIA, and Nutanix.
Bare metal servers deliver high-performance and native cloud network function support, enabling users to rapidly build and expand application services with high performance requirements. Also, users can manage a bare metal server’s network configuration, storage configuration, and operating system interface.
Certain applications, including high-intensity databases, video games, and artificial intelligence (AI) & machine learning (ML) workloads, typically achieve higher performance and cost-efficiency on bare metal servers.
For example, Kingsoft Cloud, a cloud service provider in China, recently highlighted a bare metal server deployment by a customer:
“We launched a bare metal server to provide high-performance infrastructure services to customers. For example, in December, knowledge-sharing platform, Zhihu, completed the migration of its entire online business to our cloud. This included the deployment of 1,000 bare metal servers, which makes it one of the largest Kubernetes clusters in China.”
-Yulin Wang, Chief Executive Officer & Director of Kingsoft Cloud
Dedicated Server vs Bare Metal Server
Dedicated servers have been around for decades – since the early hosting days – and will likely continue to be around for decades to come. While dedicated servers and bare metal servers share similarities, they also differ in a number of ways.
Importantly, both dedicated servers and bare metal servers do not use virtualization. Instead, they offer customers dedicated “raw horsepower” in the form of a physical server, which provides a user with exclusive access to resources.
Still, there are important differences between dedicated servers and bare metal servers, including provisioning time, hardware, and billing terms:
- Provisioning Time: historically, dedicated servers have had longer provisioning times. Whereas bare metal servers can be provisioned in a matter of minutes
- Hardware: often, dedicated servers make use of low-end or even dated hardware. In contrast, bare metal servers employ the most recent technology, such as the latest generation of Intel Xeon or AMD EPYC processors
- Billing Terms: typically, dedicated servers utilize contracts and charge on billing increments of months or years. While bare metal servers charge on more flexible, on-demand billing increments of hours or months
Bare Metal Services
Bare metal services in the cloud provide on-demand IT infrastructure. A bare metal instance, like a dedicated server, is an entire server rented to a customer with no virtualization (or hypervisor) involved, which allows for unrestricted hardware access.
In contrast to standard dedicated servers, bare metal instances are provisioned in minutes and billed according to a specific amount of time, such as hourly or monthly.
Benefits and Challenges of Bare Metal Cloud
The benefits of bare metal cloud revolve around the access that users have to hardware resources and, specifically, include performance, control, flexibility, cost, and security & compliance. While the challenges associated with a bare metal cloud system are IT complexity, hardware dependence, and cost-efficiency for certain types of workloads.
Benefits of Bare Metal Cloud
- Performance: driven by dedicated server resources with greater raw processing power. Also, bare metal has more consistent disk and network input/output (I/O) performance. Finally, greater quality of service (QoS) is achieved by eliminating virtualization (resource sharing) among multiple users – which would otherwise lead to resource contention
- Control: complete control over the machine’s physical components and its software stack. Therefore, the physical CPU (processor), RAM (memory), and storage resources can be optimized to accommodate specific workloads and fully utilize the physical server’s resources
- Flexibility: on-demand resource scaling (in minutes) and pay-per-use billing models (with as little as hourly commitments) offers users the ability to test-out new workloads or accommodate sudden traffic spikes, before committing to monthly or yearly terms
- Cost: initially, costs are lower in a bare metal cloud environment because users do not have to purchase virtualization software. Also, bare metal cloud’s pay-per-use billing model ensures that users only pay for resources that they actually consume, which mitigates the over-provisioning of infrastructure
- Security and Compliance: physical isolation of workloads and a non-virtualized environment for servers offers security and regulatory benefits, as compared to typical multi-tenant cloud environments
Challenges of Bare Metal Cloud
- IT Complexity: as part of gaining control over a machine’s physical components and software stack, more responsibility and IT expertise is required of the user to configure hardware and manage the operating system, hypervisor, containers, and applications, in a bare metal cloud environment
- Hardware Dependence: when users deploy on bare metal, their workloads become more dependent on the specific hardware that they are running on. In turn, this makes workloads harder to move, change, or automate
- Cost-Efficiency: typically, compute intensive workloads achieve higher performance and cost-efficiency on bare metal servers, whereas it can actually be more cost-efficient to run sustained, predictable workloads in a traditional virtualized cloud environment
Bare Metal Cloud Providers
Bare metal cloud providers deliver exclusive physical servers with high-performance and native cloud network function support, enabling users to rapidly build and expand application services with high performance requirements.
Examples of the top bare metal cloud providers include the largest cloud service providers, namely Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. In addition, other notable bare metal cloud providers are IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), Zenlayer, and OVHcloud. Each of these bare metal cloud providers are detailed in the following sections.
Additionally, with the bare metal cloud market growing rapidly, there are a number of new providers emerging on a continual basis.
Bare Metal Cloud Market
The bare metal cloud is rapidly being adopted by large enterprises that place a high value on performance, control, flexibility, cost, and security & compliance. To this end, forecasts indicate that the global bare metal cloud market will reach $29 billion by 2029, recording a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23% from 2022 through 2029.
What is Bare Metal in AWS?
Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers bare metal services running on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2). Through Amazon EC2, M6i and C6i bare metal instances are available, powered by 3rd generation Intel Xeon Scalable processors and memory resources of the underlying server. At the same time, Amazon EC2 offers M6a and C6a bare metal instances, which are powered by 3rd generation AMD EPYC processors and memory resources of the underlying server.
Particularly, these AWS bare metal instances are well-suited for the following workloads:
- M6i and M6a Instances: web & application servers, back-end servers supporting enterprise applications, microservices, multiplayer gaming servers, caching fleets, and application development environments
- C6i and C6a Instances: compute-intensive applications like batch processing, distributed analytics, high performance computing (HPC), ad serving, highly-scalable multiplayer gaming, and video encoding
Amazon EC2 bare metal instances allow customers to run applications that benefit from performance analysis tools, specialized workloads that require direct access to bare metal infrastructure, legacy workloads not supported in virtual environments, and licensing-restricted applications.
Workloads on bare metal instances can be integrated with the features of AWS Cloud, such as Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS), Elastic Load Balancer (ELB), and Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). Additionally, bare metal instances make it possible for customers to run secured containers such as Clear Linux Containers.
Amazon EKS Anywhere
AWS has made available Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS) Anywhere on bare metal, which gives users a greater choice of infrastructure for running Kubernetes on-premises. Specifically, Amazon EKS Anywhere on bare metal enables customers to automate the steps from bare metal hardware provisioning to Kubernetes cluster operations using bundled open source tools.
What is Bare Metal in Azure?
Microsoft Azure provides bare metal services, meaning bare metal servers running in Azure regions without a virtualization layer, under the name BareMetal Infrastructure. To serve high-value, mission-critical applications, BareMetal Infrastructure also gives users root access and control over the operating system (OS).
Azure’s dedicated BareMetal instances (i.e., compute instances) comprise the following features:
- High-Performance Storage: appropriate to the application (NFS, ISCSI, and Fiber Channel). Also, storage can be shared across BareMetal instances to enable features like scale-out clusters or high availability pairs with STONITH, a method for fencing in computer clusters
- VLANs: a set of function-specific virtual LANs (VLANs) in an isolated environment
Azure’s bare metal services benefit certain workloads that necessitate special architecture, certified hardware, or extremely large sizes. Indeed, these workloads are more sensitive to latency and resource contention, which means they require more control over change management and maintenance activity.
Alternative Bare Metal Cloud Providers
While AWS and Azure have been two of the dominant providers in the bare metal cloud space, there are a number of other providers that are taking market share. Examples of the most popular alternative bare metal providers are IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI), Zenlayer, and OVHcloud:
IBM Cloud Bare Metal Servers
IBM Cloud Bare Metal Servers are dedicated, single-tenant servers with optimal performance. Without a hypervisor, customers have complete root access to all of their server’s resources. With over 11 million possible combinations, customers can make this service their own.
Oracle Bare Metal Server
Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) Bare Metal Servers use dedicated compute instances to provide customers with isolation, transparency, and control.
The servers can expand up to 160 cores (the largest in the market), 2 TB of RAM, and 1 PB of block storage to handle applications that demand a large number of cores, a significant size of memory, and high-speed bandwidth.
Zenlayer Bare Metal Cloud
Zenlayer Bare Metal Cloud offers performance through fast dedicated servers, which give customers total control over their data. Standard configurations include up to 256 GB of RAM and two Intel Xeon Scalable Processors with up to 40 cores each.
Additionally, using the Zenlayer Portal, customers may add or remove as many servers as necessary to fulfill demand, or relocate resources to another zone. Depending on a customer’s specific needs, they can choose to be billed hourly or monthly.
OVHcloud Bare Metal
OVHcloud Bare Metal allows customers to host their website, create high-resilience infrastructure, and tailor their machine to very specific needs. In all of OVHcloud’s data centers, customers can deploy servers in less than 120 seconds.
When a customer integrates their servers with other OVHcloud products, such as Hosted Private Cloud and Public Cloud, they can benefit from infrastructure scalability.
What is Bare Metal as-a-service (BMaaS)?
Bare metal as-a-service (BMaaS) offerings allow customers to rapidly and virtually provision physical servers at colocation data centers. In other words, BMaaS can be thought of as automated colocation where a customer receives dedicated hardware with APIs and DevOps / orchestration that allow for dynamic provisioning.
Equinix, the world’s largest colocation data center operator, calls its bare metal as-a-service (BMaaS) offering Equinix Metal. This service helps facilitate hybrid and multi-cloud deployments at Equinix’s colocation data centers by using bare metal servers.
Through this bare metal offering, Equinix purchases physical servers and allows its customers to run their cloud applications on these servers – either on-demand (hourly) or under month-to-month, 1-year, or 3-year commitments.