An Introduction To Bare Metal Provisioning
Bare Metal servers allow users to choose their own operating systems and fine-tune hardware and software for specific data-intensive workloads.
Bare metal plays a variety of roles in the modern data center. Essentially, legacy hardware, core business apps like ERP, and specific apps required by an organization often drive the requirement for bare-metal workloads in the data center. This is down to the fact that bare-metal servers are a good fit for high-performance computing (HPC) applications because they are free from normal virtualization overhead.
What Is Bare Metal?
Bare metal describes a computer framework that does not have a base operating system (OS) or installed applications. It is a computer's hardware assembly, structure, and components that are installed with either the firmware or basic input/output system (BIOS) software utility or no software at all.
What Is a Bare Metal Server?
Bare metal servers refer to cloud services whereby the user rents a physical machine from a provider that is not shared with any other tenants. Unlike traditional cloud computing, which is based on virtual machines, bare metal servers do not come with a hypervisor pre-installed and give the user complete control over their server infrastructure.
Why Are Businesses Embracing Bare Metal Servers?
The use of bare metal servers has been growing in recent years thanks to various benefits that businesses can leverage. Primarily, they offer:
- Isolated Environments: Having a server to yourself means you can configure it to your needs and create your own personalized environment.
- State-Of-Art Computing Power: Bare metals are configured with extremely fast CPUs, RAMs, and NVME SSDs for storage. This powerhouse configuration ensures that the server experiences little to no downtime in the most critical scenarios.
- No Noisy Neighbour Issues: Noisy neighbor problems arise when you work on a shared server, and the other user tends to use the majority of the resources, which may result in your application experiencing slowness or crashes.
- Flexible Administration And Server Configuration: Conventional server providers usually provide pre-configured servers with administration policies already in place. Although this is convenient for an easy setup, it takes away the freedom to run your machine as you desire. Bare metal provides you with a fresh start to manage things according to your needs.
- Pay-As-You-Go: Conventional dedicated servers are rented either on a monthly or yearly basis, regardless of how much use you have. When it comes to bare metal servers, in addition to the monthly and yearly reservations, the billing cycle also works on an hourly basis. This means you can choose to only pay according to how much you use.
- Better Security: Being in a single-tenant environment means you do not share the network and resources with anyone. This brings down the chance of internal cyber attacks and allows you to set up custom firewalls to prevent any external attacks.
Due to such benefits, firms now prefer bare metal provisioning rather than opting for conventional servers. But as with any server, bare metal provisioning also comes with certain challenges to overcome.
How To Manage Bare Metal Servers
The original idea of bare metal provisioning was closer to that of an on-premises server. Essentially, the occupant has a piece of physical high-performing hardware available at their disposal, which they would configure and set up accordingly. This provides a lot of flexibility to the users but requires in-house IT experts for all the advanced configurations, network setup, and server management.
It is important to note that bare metal servers did not come with hypervisors installed either, so OS installation and management also presented a burden to organizations. With that being said, it is undeniable that bare metal provisioning architecture has come a long way and operates today under multiple infrastructures. They comprise:
Type 1 Hypervisor
A type 1 hypervisor, also known as a bare metal hypervisor, is directly installed on the hardware rather than the OS, and as a result, they offer high availability and speedy access to resources. These hypervisors allow bare metal occupants to create virtual machines on the server to host different operating systems. The bare metal then serves as a host machine for multiple virtual machines.
Rented Bare Metal Farms
This option offers a good alternative to having in-house bare metal management because you can rent them from third-party Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) providers. The benefit of this provisioning approach is that you can strategically select a geographical location for the servers that suit you best.
Additionally, these kinds of server racks are managed by the provider and come pre-installed with monitoring applications. The monitoring applications give you a nice and secure web-based portal to monitor the health and state of multiple servers and make changes to administrative policies and configurations.
Furthermore, in such server clusters, the bare metal provisioning architecture also includes an OS deployment server which is responsible for the coordination of OS deployment, updates, and security patches amongst all the servers in your rack.
Bare Metal Cloud
With its increase in popularity, bare metal has made its way into Cloud computing. Using this model for your Cloud infrastructure means you get to enjoy the benefits of both bare metal and a Cloud server. Some of the notable examples include:
Equinix provides bare metal servers with all the common features, such as:
- Easy deployment within minutes.
- On-demand server instances.
- Offering APIs for easy integration of your server with common deployment tools.
- A separate line-up of workload-optimized machines that are designed to tackle high-demanding tasks.
Essentially, Equinix offers all these services, all the while reducing the carbon footprint and encouraging sustainability. Their data centers are committed to 100% renewable energy and are leaders in social responsibility.
Oracle gives you bare metal servers and a provisioning tool as a standalone service. They have several CPUs for their servers that come in a wide variety of prices. For server provisioning, Oracle provides a nice interface within their enterprise application. It also allows installation of Oracle VM Server or Linux on its bare metal machines. However, the provisioning application has some prerequisites you need to meet before you can set it up and use it. Basically, you need to set up an environment that comprises important entities, namely;
- A Boot Server
- A Stage Server
- A Reference Host
- An RPM Repository
The good news is Oracle's documentation provides a step-by-step guide for setting up the provisioning environment and using the provisioning application.
AWS offers bare metal as part of their EC2 clusters. Some of their top-tier bare metal offerings include x2iedn, x2idn, and i4i. These servers can go up to 192 vCPUs, and a staggering 4 TB of memory, depending on your desired configuration.
A notable aspect in this context is that AWS bare metal enjoys all the common advantages of AWS Cloud, such as state-of-the-art security, almost zero downtime, and high-speed network connectivity.
Overall, bare metal Clouds offer benefits such as;
- Dedicated environment and computing power.
- High-end processors.
- Flexible, per-hour pricing model.
- Scalable infrastructure.
- State-of-the-art security provisions, similar to conventional Clouds.
- Access to Cloud migration tools for application mobility.
In conclusion, the approaches highlighted above are ready-to-deploy machines with many of the configurations done by the provider. As convenient as this may be, it takes away the flexibility that many users enjoy. For this reason, most users opt for raw servers with no OS or hypervisor deployed so that they may do the configurations themselves. If you choose this path, bare metal provisioning tools make it easier to execute such deployments.
Top Tools for Bare Metal Provisioning
Bare metal provisioning tools help with tasks like OS installation, infrastructure monitoring, and network configuration. With that said, here are some of the most popular tools;
MAAS is an open-source solution that provides fast server provisioning for data centers. It treats bare metal servers as virtualized Cloud machines and allows you to manage multiple machines at the same time.
It also boasts fast OS installation speeds with the help of an optimized image-based installer. As such, it allows you to deploy some of the most common operating systems, including CentOS, Windows, and Ubuntu.
MAAS' top features include:
- Automation: Automated network and server discovery.
- Multiple Management Options: MAAS gives you a range of options for managing your server cluster, including a web-based UI and command line interface (CLI) for remote management and APIs for automation.
- KVM Micro-cloud: MAAS allows you to manage your KVM host with a graphical user interface, as well as view and manage resources and create customized networks for VMs.
- Network Monitoring: MAAS provides DHCP management for defining IP ranges for servers and booting the machines straight from the network (PXE Boot). It also provides full DNS management to create multiple DNS domains and assign different domains to different machines and devices.
Notably, this bare metal provisioning tool is essentially free, but it also comes with certainly paid versions that provide customer support as a standalone service. The paid version has three tiers, as shown below;
PRICE PER MACHINE
High availability support and role-based access control.
All features from the previous tier + Phone and ticket support with a 4-hour response time.
All features from the previous tier + 24/7 support with a 1-hour response time.
Foreman is an open-source tool that allows the provisioning of virtual and bare metal servers. Foreman's bare metal provisioning architecture includes a central node that provides a web UI, node configurations, initial host configuration files, etc. The installation includes a smart proxy, usually placed near the actual service for better latency, as well as for the management of TFTP, DHCP, DNS, Puppet, Puppet CA, Ansible, Salt, and Chef.
Foreman also offers a plugin architecture that offers custom features and functions so that you can customize and enhance your management experience. Some of their popular plugins supported include Ansible, Azure, and Graphite.
The tool supports bare metal provisioning on popular Cloud services such as Google Cloud Platform and AWS. As an open-source tool, the support is limited to a wiki page and troubleshooting forums. Nonetheless, the Foreman community is very active in helping others.
An important point to highlight is that Foreman is trusted by many industry giants, managing up to tens of thousands of servers for companies such as
- Brandorr Group
TrueSight (formerly BladeLogic) is a server automation and provisioning tool that supports both bare metal and virtual Cloud servers. It provides all the features that we have highlighted, such as fast OS installation over the network. Furthermore, their documentation provides a thorough guide for all the requirements for bare metal provisioning, such as setting up the PXE environment and creating and executing provision jobs.
TrueSight offers multiple automation solutions for server management. It allows configuration inspection and snapshot creation all through a single interface and without any scripting. Interestingly, BMC does not disclose its pricing publicly. Nonetheless, to request a price quote, you can contact them via a quick email. They also have free trials available for some of their products.
Notably, BMC, Truesight's parent company, is a software solutions provider that works with 86% of Forbes Global 50 and many other customers worldwide.
Bare metals are servers that are specifically assigned to one client, and their complete resources and configurations are at their disposal. This seems very much in line with how one would define a dedicated or an on-premises server but make no mistake; these are not the same thing.
A dedicated server performs and behaves quite similarly to bare metal, but it usually consists of low-power, legacy hardware that may not be suitable for high-traffic situations. Bare metal, on the other hand, is powered with the latest and greatest hardware and also comes with superior bare metal provisioning tools that make the setup procedure easy.
Bare metal can be used as on-premises machines, rented server farms, or as a cloud service from notable providers. Working with bare metal provides a lot of additional functionality to businesses, such as provisioning OS deployment with custom configurations and policies.
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