Bare metal servers are a growing niche of the public cloud space, and IT service providers should start paying more attention to it as the nature of the application workloads being deployed in the cloud continues to evolve.
Today, a bare metal server is most often used by a Big Data application or some other type of workload, such as gaming, where the performance penalties associated with virtual servers is just too high. The dominant provider of bare metal servers in the cloud is IBM, which acquired SoftLayer back in 2013. One of the major things that differentiated SoftLayer is that it provided support for both bare metal and virtual servers.
This week, however, at the Oracle OpenWorld 2016 conference Oracle announced that it too will be making bare metal servers available as an option in the Oracle public cloud. That move makes sense in that as a leading provider of data management software of all types, the Oracle public cloud is likely to host a large number of Big Data applications.
The impact of containers on bare metal servers
The reason IT service providers should take note of these offerings has more to do with the rise of containers and microservices than with Big Data applications, though. Originally, containers were developed to provide a lighter-weight virtualization alternative for a single application. Containers such as Docker are highly portable, so developers have been embracing them because it makes it much simpler to package up their applications for distribution on a wide variety of platforms, including platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environments, virtual machines, and bare metal servers.
Today, the vast majority of containers are deployed in a PaaS environment or on a virtual machine. The primary reason for this is that not many IT organizations have the tools in place needed to manage containers running on bare metal servers. But over time many of them will. In fact, many of the software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that use containers today run on bare metal servers to ensure performance and optimize their IT infrastructure investments. The simple fact of the matter is an IT organization can host significantly more containers per bare metal server than they can on top of a virtual server. When operating at Web scale, that can translate into millions of dollars in saved IT infrastructure spending.
Preparing for the future
There’s plenty of fierce debate these days over where and how to use containers. But one thing that is certain is that the number of containers moving into production environments is starting to increase exponentially. As container management frameworks such as Kubernetes, Docker DataCenter, and Mesosphere continue to mature, it’s only a matter of time before many of those containers are going to end up on bare metal servers in the cloud.
It remains to be seen how Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft will respond to the rise of bare metal servers. Naturally, virtual servers and PaaS environments won’t be going away. IT service providers will have to evaluate the criteria attached to each class of workload to determine where to best run it.
The good news is that as cloud computing as a whole continues to evolve, the amount of expertise required to truly master it only increases. For IT service providers that have that application workload expertise, continued demand for their services is all but assured.