Making the decision to use containers to run your applications is the first step. Now what? While the choice of the technology is crucial, the deployment model for containers is equally important. Containers can be run directly on a physical or virtual machine. In this article, we’ll explore why running containers on bare metal servers can be a better option than using virtual machines.
While containers virtualize the operating system, virtual machines (using the hypervisor) do the same with the hardware of a physical server. To learn more about the similarities and the differences between these concepts, check out the article, “Bare Metal vs Virtualization vs Serverless.”
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Limitations of running containers on virtual machines
There are three key factors to consider when deciding between running containers on physical servers and virtual machines.
When you add layers of abstraction you increase the difficulty of managing and configuring the solution. For this reason, running a container on a virtual machine that also resides on a physical host does not simplify the final architecture much at all. In fact, the virtualization layer can introduce several disadvantages that impact the network, the distribution and customization of the environment, as well as monitoring and possible troubleshooting of an internal incident during operation.
In addition to the technical complexity that is added when virtualizing hardware to run containers, the technical team must possess the specific knowledge and expertise required to control and manage the environment in a secure and reliable way. If you need direct access to hardware components, like network cards, GPU, etc., it will always be easier to access them through the same physical machine which removes the virtual component.
As mentioned earlier, the hypervisor abstracts virtual machines from the physical hardware but not from the operating system layer. This means that at the first level for each virtual machine that is running in a virtualization solution, we will be burdening the hardware with resources “not dedicated” to containers, which is an important part of the overhead that can impact the overall performance.
Although it is increasingly optimized, logically the hypervisor is also going to need resources to be able to function, which could consume the total compute, network and storage capacity. Running containers directly on an operating system installed on bare metal will always provide the best performance.
This is a critical point that must be evaluated thoroughly when choosing the final solution for containers. Whether containers are hosted on bare metal or virtual machines, they both can scale if business requirements and/or success demand it and any additional costs around scalability must be understood and approved by the technical team.
Virtualizing hardware will require dedicated resources to manage maintenance tasks, increasing the total number of hours worked which translates into increased costs. While there are many tools that facilitate this work, it is still necessary to maintain/update the platform and manage the distribution of virtual machines based on the needs of the business. By removing the virtualization layer, less maintenance is required which reduces resource costs and frees up the technical team to redirect their efforts to adding value in other areas.
Depending on which virtualization solution is selected, there will be a final product cost, because this software is designed to deliver seamless maintenance of a complex solution. In the case of deploying containers directly on bare metal, you will not pay for any extra software — only for the specific operating system required if there is a cost.
Running Containers on Equinix Metal Bare Metal as a Service (BMaaS)
There are multiple use cases for running containers on BMaaS. Once the environment is deployed on several physical machines and the storage, compute and network resources are defined, it is relatively simple to adjust the resources to create the best density for your workloads, create parallel nodes or automate other tasks using the software’s own tools.
Equinix Metal offers compute, storage and networking capable of delivering the highest performance for your containers, while being consumed in a dynamic and simple way that is much closer to a cloud-like experience.
In addition to being able to manage and control optimized single-tenant physical servers from a self-management portal, you have the option to interact directly with the Equinix Metal API or use the Terraform extension[i] to reduce or almost eliminate the resource operation capabilities that virtualization does offer for container environments. This translates into a physical environment with virtual or cloud-like capabilities including deployment automation.
To further enhance the value of Equinix Metal, we offer it fully integrated with Equinix Fabric, which provides software-defined interconnection, and Network Edge virtual networking services. This will allow you to deploy hybrid IT and hybrid multicloud architectures easily and quickly while still enjoying the benefits of bare metal.
Learn how you can run containers on bare metal by visiting our Equinix Metal Developer Platform.
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