Cloud Services Take Bare Metal to the Edge

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By: Mary Jander

Enhancements to Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) service highlight a growing trend toward cloud-based bare-metal services.

Earlier this month, AWS announced a series of EC2 instances that offer customers direct, dedicated access to Intel Xeon Scalable “Cascade Lake” processors and afford 100 Gbit/s of bandwidth for high-performance computing (HPC).

As with any other bare-metal solution, users bring their own operating systems and hypervisors to the instances in order to get isolated and dedicated platforms for privacy/security, compliance or licensing reasons, and better performance. Bare metal services also save the costs of adopting white-box hardware, as well as managing and maintaining it.

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AWS, which has offered bare-metal instances for a couple of years, has been joined by other public cloud providers as bare metal enthusiasm builds. Google offers a Bare Metal Solution for its cloud platform, and Microsoft (MSFT) Azure features a BareMetal Infrastructure service available in parts of Europe and the U.S. IBM (IBM) is running a sale on its Cloud Bare Metal Servers. Oracle (ORCL) offers cloud-based bare metal instances of its own.

Why Bare Metal Is a Cloud Edge Alternative

Many providers of bare-metal cloud services say their solutions deliver interim platforms for legacy applications being moved to the cloud. But it's becoming clear that the bare-metal alternative delivered via cloud service offers better performance at the network edge -- a growing priority for firms adopting Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and analytics applications.

Since there is no juggling of resources with other tenants, a dedicated bare-metal option can offer lower latency and faster throughput at the edge. Lumen Technologies (LUMN, formerly Centurylink), for example, has worked alone and with VMware (VMW) to offer bare-metal services at Lumen's edge PoPs. This approach adds to a SASE/secure edge strategy.

Similarly, Equinix (EQIX), via its purchase of Packet for $335 million last year, offers a bare-metal service it classes as a solution “to deploy physical infrastructure at the edge,” as well as a way to support multi-cloud networking (MCN). Equinix rival Digital Realty (DLR) offers a bare metal service through integration with Vapor IO and Hivelocity that it bills for “edge deployment.”

Other Bare Metal Advantages

In addition to edge compute, some companies also claim that bare-metal services can be an efficient means of adopting containerized applications. Hybrid cloud software company Diamanti, for instance, claims that by running containers on bare metal, resource utilization can be increased to by over 75% compared to running containers in virtual machines (VMs) — a popular method of migrating to containerized environments.

Bare-metal services also can be used to deploy software-defined wide-area networking (SD-WAN), as part of a hybrid or multi-cloud network setup or simply to optimize performance. The virtual nature of SD-WAN makes it flexible enough to run in a variety of environments, which has boosted its popularity as a service offering in its own right, particularly to enhance security, support remote work, and replace leased lines.

When Bare Metal Clouds Beat Hosting

Providers of bare metal “as a service” from the cloud claim it is more efficient than dedicated hosting. One reason is that bare-metal services are billed by consumption (hourly, per minute, per instance, etc.), rather than via leases billed monthly or annually. Another is that bare-metal services tend to be trendier than hosting, with more high-performance hardware and storage options available.

The advantages of bare-metal services have prompted hosting providers to pivot toward a cloud-based model. Liquid Web, Rackspace (RXT), Scaleway, and other companies that began as hosting firms have stepped up their offerings of bare-metal-as-a-service.

Bare metal may have begun as an offshoot of hosting and collocation, but its ongoing adoption as a cloud service bodes well for its future, as long as enterprises and service providers require a dedicated and powerful solution to performance challenges.