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What Is Bare Metal? Is it a Server or a Cloud?

Deploy a cloud-like environment with predictable performance, secure data storage and real-time networking on a physical server

Justin Beck
What Is Bare Metal? Is it a Server or a Cloud?

As businesses diversify and expand geographically, they’re discovering the need to deploy various types of infrastructure to meet specific requirements for different applications, high-performance processing, secure data storage and on-demand networking. Bare metal is an example of infrastructure that is helping companies meet increasing demand for high-performance computing (HPC) and processing power.

Customers often ask me whether bare metal is a server or a cloud, and they want to understand the similarities and differences between bare metal and the cloud. In this blog post, I’ll explain what bare metal is and what makes it different from the cloud. I’ll also discuss how businesses can achieve a cloud-like experience when they use Bare Metal as a Service to deploy physical servers.

What is bare metal?

The term bare metal refers to a single-tenant server that provides access to 100% of the processing power, memory and storage of the physical hardware resources. As the name implies, these servers are not provisioned with the added layers of hypervisors and management software that cloud providers install on virtual machines. Bare metal gives the user complete control over its server infrastructure. It allows full customization; customers can choose their preferred operating system and retain full control of the server.

There are two main reasons businesses choose to add bare metal to their digital infrastructure: predictable performance and control of their data.

Predictable performance: Bare metal servers are ideal for processing large volumes of data and bandwidth intensive workloads. One of the main drivers of the bare metal market is the growing demand for HPC and data analytics linked to the expanding use of AI and machine learning. It’s a logical choice given bare metal’s data crunching and GPU capabilities.

Because the servers are single-tenant and dedicated to one business, there’s no “noisy neighbor” effect like you might find on a shared virtual machine. In a cloud environment, ten customers could share a slice of a physical server in the form of a virtual machine. Add to that the layers of software and an O/S, and suddenly, processing power efficiency and latency can become an issue–especially when it comes to online gaming or high-frequency trading.

Data control: As businesses expand into new countries and regions, the need for enhanced security and compliance are driving the increased use of bare metal. Building a security perimeter around data on these dedicated servers helps businesses comply with the rapidly expanding regulatory requirements for protecting sensitive data. When necessary, they can connect these servers to the cloud for workload processing.

Bare metal can help create a dedicated cloud environment, which integrates single-tenant compute with services from multiple cloud providers. This makes it possible to move data and workloads between bare metal servers and clouds quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively.

Five drivers that make bare metal the logical choice

Just as there are reasons businesses migrate applications to the cloud, there are business realities that make deploying bare metal the best solution.

  • Mission-critical applications—such as online banking systems, railway/aircraft operating and control systems, and ERP and CRM applications—must be available and running 24/7.
  • Highly distributed users that primarily use the internet to access corporate resources, such as legacy and SaaS applications, data, collaboration tools and virtual desktop infrastructure, need to do so instantly and securely. It also applies to the online gaming industry–delivering the best possible experience for distributed users is paramount.
  • Bandwidth-intensive workloads, such as online gaming, are sometimes called “chatty workloads” because they use a significant amount of internet bandwidth.
  • Variable usage refers to the need to burst for short durations or a specific project and then turn down the capacity; this typically applies to a duration of less than 12 months.
  • Data-intensive workloads—such as AI/ML training and inference models, HPC, business intelligence, data analytics and database applications—require reliable hardware that can hold up to lengthy cycles of processing enormous amounts of data.

This is a small subset of drivers that businesses can solve by deploying bare metal as part of their distributed digital infrastructure.

Equinix Metal and the power of Platform Equinix

Equinix Metal® is our Bare Metal as a Service (BMaaS) solution that customers use to deploy physical servers rapidly and virtually on demand for single-tenant compute and storage capacity close to end users and data sources. BMaaS can serve as a central zone between colocation and the public cloud and can be thought of as automated colocation. It offers the choice and control of physical hardware while providing a cloud-like experience.

Customers use our web-based portal to order what they need in minutes for global deployments. They choose the server size, the processors and number of cores, the amount of RAM, the storage and the networking. Equinix Metal supports many different operating systems, from Windows to Linux. Companies can also bring their own customized O/S, including a Linux distribution they may have customized. Customers simply point to an O/S image and then provision it to the bare metal server from our web-based portal, API or Terraform.

Storage is available directly on the Equinix Metal server, or in dedicated storage arrays (a series of storage disks) when the data is independent of a specific server. The storage drives sit in an array next to the bare metal servers for easy access by one or more servers.

Equinix Metal is one of several digital infrastructure services that run on Platform Equinix®, in addition to our Equinix IBX® colocation data centers and Equinix xScale® hyperscale sites supported by our data center services.

  • Equinix Fabric® is our software-defined interconnection solution that’s directly integrated with Equinix Metal, making it quick and easy to set direct, private connections between the different elements of your hybrid infrastructure or your ecosystem partners.
  • Network Edge offers virtual network functions from top vendors to help reduce cost and complexity while increasing network agility and resilience.

Networking on Equinix Metal demonstrates the power of Platform Equinix. Customers can connect multiple bare metal servers to create a cluster in a VLAN, allowing the servers to communicate. Equinix provides all the networking infrastructure over the top of rack switches and the routers facing the outside internet, all the backbone network infrastructure, and all the APIs that allow customers to make changes in real time.

Every server has internet access by default. Customers use our web-based portal to set networking configurations for internet access in real time or bring their own IP addresses to the platform. They can also connect bare metal servers to clouds or Network Service Providers when certain parts of workloads need to communicate with applications. By comparison, an organization attempting to do something similar in their on-premises data center environment would generally need to open IT tickets to add a VLAN to a server, which usually includes approvals from different operations teams and potentially change review boards that can add time and delay changes.

Equinix Metal solves three distinct use cases

The following enterprise IT use cases highlight how organizations can incorporate bare metal into their digital infrastructure to solve specific challenges.

  • Hybrid multicloud architectures: Businesses use Equinix Metal to place workloads next to clouds and enable automated hybrid cloud using Terraform and APIs. They also use DevOps tools to automate digital infrastructure and software deployments in minutes, not months. As part of this hybrid multicloud approach, companies leverage Equinix Metal to store mission-critical data, reducing excessive API charges and eliminating egress fees. When companies store data adjacent to public cloud on-ramps, it speeds access to these low-latency connections to major cloud providers.
  • Disaster recovery: Organizations need to select secondary locations where they will rapidly redeploy their applications in the event of a disaster. With the global reach of Equinix interconnection services and bare metal capabilities, organizations can quickly deploy and recover their mission-critical applications. Businesses can also take a snapshot of applications that run in the cloud and store them on Equinix Metal in an adjacent or in-country Equinix IBX colocation data center.
  • Regulations and compliance: Regulatory requirements for data can take many forms, requiring multiple levels of data security and retention in specific regions. This is one reason that not all workloads are well-suited for the public cloud. Equinix Metal provides secure data and storage solutions for compliance with regulatory and governance requirements across the globe.

The versatility of how Equinix Metal solves numerous infrastructure challenges makes it a vital component of digital infrastructure for companies across many industries.

To learn more about how deploying Equinix Metal can help make infrastructure your competitive advantage, read the Infrastructure Optimization Guide.

You may also be interested to read the Make infrastructure your competitive advantage with Equinix Metal data sheet.

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