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Bare-metal cloud approach strips traditional overhead

Vendors are using bare-metal technology to bring single-tenant, customizable environments to the cloud, and enterprises are biting.

Cloud vendors are using bare-metal technology to improve performance by removing hypervisors and the overhead they...


Typical public cloud environments require companies to store virtual machines (VMs) on shared physical servers. The result is that VMs often compete for resources and some workloads don't get the performance they need.

Bare-metal clouds avoid this problem by removing the virtualization layer -- customers essentially pay for dedicated hardware resources. Some of the most prominent bare-metal cloud providers build on this by utilizing OpenStack, allowing the hardware and software to be controlled through one management layer.

A bare-metal computer uses a VM installed directly on hardware instead of the host operating system. The "bare metal" is the hard disk.

A bare-metal cloud customizes the hardware -- storage, processors and networking -- to improve performance without any hypervisors or virtualization.

The bare-metal cloud approach appeals to customers looking to bring high-transaction workloads such as databases or big data to the cloud.

"Customers will run those workloads on the public cloud and they typically run into some sort of performance constraint, whether it’s the size of the instance they can create, or just the performance because you have a hypervisor in between and you're not able to get full performance," said Marc Jones, CTO of IBM’s SoftLayer cloud.

SoftLayer's CloudLayer platform provides remote storage, bare-metal servers and virtual servers across datacenters with private network connectivity.

OnMetal Cloud Server vendor Rackspace takes a similar approach. By layering OpenStack interfaces on top of pools of single-tenant bare-metal servers, customers are able to avoid the performance hit from multi-tenant clouds.

"What people don't like about general cloud computing is the fact that there's overhead," said Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting. "[With bare-metal] you ultimately get more predictable performance, and service providers can spin them up relatively fast."

More flexibility makes for fewer reservations about cloud

It isn't just performance predictability that's attracting enterprises to bare-metal cloud offerings. Services from vendors such as SoftLayer and Rackspace give IT professionals the ability to customize their environment in a way that isn't possible with public cloud offerings.

Rackspace CTO John Engates said that flexibility is one of the biggest drivers in adoption of Rackspace's OnMetal cloud as well. "It's like living in a house versus an apartment. In a house I can knock down walls, but in an apartment I'm constrained," he said. "If customers have very specific requirements and they don't find the public cloud gives them what they need, they can find it with bare-metal."

"We have a lot of customers that come to us from public cloud because it gives more customizable options for their workload. They can scale up more -- you can get a quad processor -- you can fully customize the underlying storage," said SoftLayer's Jones.

With a subscription to SoftLayer's platform, customers get a choice -- hard disk drives, solid-state drives and the ability to configure RAID are all options.

But according to Dragon Slayer Consulting’s Staimer, the problem areas of traditional cloud storage open the door for bare-metal approaches.

"This is a sign of maturation of cloud services because as in anything, when the market first develops, one size fits all," he said. "One size never fits all, but now parts of cloud services are going after performance, and that's where bare metal is coming. The focus is the problem it solves. "

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