Since the rise of cloud computing, the term “server” can refer to either hardware or software. However, bare metal and dedicated servers are the real lifeblood of network hosting.
The flexibility and scalability of cloud computing has transformed the IT industry, but there are still times when the stability and performance power of a bare metal server is the optimal choice.
But what is bare metal exactly?
How does it differentiate from dedicated servers and virtual machines?
And in which cases is bare metal most helpful?
All computer server networks require physical machines, even cloud-based ones.
At its most basic, bare metal refers to the physical hardware reserved for a single customer, known as a “tenant”. It has emerged as a term to differentiate modern physical servers from the cloud computing networking model that has gained prominence.
Cloud hosting pools together machines to create a larger virtual environment, of which customers can use a slice. Bare metal, on the other hand, provides you with the whole machine but with the option to use it for short, flexible intervals.
Isn’t bare metal just a dedicated server?
Not quite. While these seem identical and are often used interchangeably, bare metal and dedicated servers are not the exact same thing. On a purely technical level, the two are very similar. Both terms refer to the raw physical hardware. Both are also single-tenant machines used for high-performance tasks and increased security.
The “noisy” cloud apartment complex
When sharing the hardware resources in the cloud with other users, the performance of your server could be affected if the other tenants run resource-intensive applications. This is known as the “noisy neighbor effect”.
Using the cloud is like a short-term apartment rental. You only pay for the weeks you stay, leave when you want, and call the landlord if the ceiling leaks. However, if you have a dinner party and your neighbor has a rave the same night, you risk having your evening ruined. Not to mention, you can’t put your own artwork on the walls!
Bare metal’s gated community
Instead of sharing a building, bare metal is more like having your own detached house in a gated community. As the single host of a machine, you can guarantee performance knowing that no other users are soaking up resources.
Bare metal enables a vast amount of control and customization, ramping up CPU, memory, disc configurations and even installing your own operating system. That is, not only do you not have neighbors, but you can build a whole extension for your own rave! Cloud providers also offer customization packages, though often not as powerful as bare metal.
With cloud hosting, the tenant is fully reliant on the cloud provider’s promise of security. When sharing physical resources, there is little that you can do yourself to guarantee that your neighbor’s rave won’t break down the wall and come into your bedroom. Your data security is in the hands of your cloud provider.
As a bare metal tenant, you know exactly where your physical machine is housed in the data center, can take control of virtual security measures, and be reassured that your specific physical server is isolated from any bad actors.
Cloud hosting is typically hands-off for the tenant, with the hosting provider being responsible for all upkeep of hardware and software. In contrast, dedicated server maintenance and administration lies more with the tenant. However, a bare metal provider is still a “landlord” and can carry out repairs, assistance and monitoring for your hardware.
To run applications on your server, you need an operating system (OS). Installing an OS is known as provisioning. This can be done manually or by using automated software tools that provision many servers at once. You can have your bare metal already provisioned by your server provider or install an OS of your choice yourself.
Creating Virtual Machines with a hypervisor
If you want to host multiple OSes on a single physical machine, you can split the server with a layer of software called a hypervisor. This process is called virtualization. Virtualization enables additional layers within the server to act like independent computers, called virtual machines (VMs).
VMs emulate physical computers but are not tied to the hardware, which can host several VMs. Each VM can have its own OS, and the hypervisor acts as the layer allocating hardware resources between the bare metal’s OS and the OS of the virtual machines.
Bare metal vs. Virtual machine
To continue with the property metaphor, virtualization is like renovating a large house into multiple apartments, and it comes with the same benefits and issues as with the “Cloud apartment complex”.
As a tenant of a single bare metal server, you can install a hypervisor and create multiple VM environments for yourself to accommodate various needs, keeping control of an entire server.
Alternatively, a provider can virtualize a machine and rent out single VMs to individual tenants. While renting a single VM is cheaper and less maintenance than a physical server, you risk “noisy neighbors” affecting your performance or compromising security.
For further flexibility, both bare metal and VMs can use containers — a method of running and transporting applications safely between different IT environments. Container platforms, like Docker and Kubernetes, enable teams to work in different environments without needing to pay for another server. They can be run directly on the bare metal OS to save costs and reduce the hassle of managing multiple layers of software.
In modern online gaming, every millisecond counts. Online multiplayer games have players moving through complex graphical environments. Servers need to track and process all the player actions and positions simultaneously in real-time. The slightest bit of lag can result in a virtual death for the gamer, and an unpleasant experience. Bare metal, like the i3D.net bare metal, provides the required low latency and high performance needed for fast gameplay. And the flexible capacity of bare metal helps if a game experiences unusually high numbers of players.
Voice (and video) over IP is only growing in importance, and users require low latency and high-quality sound and picture for an enjoyable experience. This requires a high amount of real-time computing for good performance. Bare metal and dedicated servers can provide the level of performance needed, and the flexibility of bare metal accommodates for particularly busy periods in the year for example tax deadline periods which bring in high volumes of calls to support desks.
Internet of Things devices collect huge amounts of data that need processing. Bare metal servers provide the performance and power for processing that date. Furthermore, bare metal offers the flexibility to only spin up the server for the needed amount of time.
The hybrid nature of bare metal is well suited to responsive web application development. Pre-production stages typically need flexibility and scalability for testing, but a completed production requires the performance and stability of dedicated servers. The customizable nature of bare metal accommodates all the stages of a web application life cycle.
Bare metal is a term that describes modern high-spec physical servers. It offers a mix of the flexibility of the cloud and the performance of dedicated servers. Bare metal is a great option for workloads that require intensive computing power like gaming and VoIP, or in situations that require heightened security.