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Bare-metal services might seem counterintuitive -- even a step back -- in a cloud market that evolves so rapidly. But vendors such as Oracle, IBM and, most recently, AWS all have bare-metal offerings, and for some enterprises, they offer a solid alternative to other public cloud services.
The most common reason an organization adopts bare-metal cloud services -- single-tenant compute environments in which users have direct access to the underlying hardware -- is to begin the migration of legacy workloads from on premises to the cloud, said Roy Illsley, principal analyst at Ovum.
"Bare metal is seen as the best approach for some lift-and-shift workloads on their way to cloud," he said.
While these bare-metal deployments might not offer all the benefits of public cloud infrastructure, they do free an organization from having to support its own on-premises hardware, Illsley noted. In addition, bare-metal cloud services often remove the virtualization layer that might introduce a performance degradation for some large, latency-sensitive workloads.
Ovum does not have any detailed figures on the adoption of bare-metal cloud services, but it has seen increased demand, as organizations look to begin the migration of core business applications to the cloud, Illsley said.
Before adoption, organizations should carefully weigh the advantages and drawbacks of bare-metal cloud services. For example, on the plus side, bare metal offers enterprises increased control because of the direct access to hardware. This can also lead to performance benefits compared to multi-tenant public cloud infrastructure, said Zvi Guterman, CEO of CloudShare, a cloud training and services provider.
"You are not penalized by other customers using up your shared resources, and you aren't at risk from cross-VM attacks," Guterman said.
The main drawbacks of bare-metal cloud services relate to price and flexibility. For example, most providers charge for bare-metal services based on monthly or hourly usage, rather than the more granular, by-the-second billing structures they apply to other cloud services.
"Choosing bare metal is like renting a private jet instead of the three seats you really need on a New York-to-San Francisco flight," Guterman said.
In addition, enterprises that use bare-metal cloud services typically lose some of the advantages of virtualization, such as the live migration of a running VM from one server to another -- a capability that that helps ensure zero downtime and continuous availability.
Bare-metal competition brews
The overall trend is that second-tier providers that compete with public cloud leaders for a share of the market are more inclined to go after bare metal because they think it speeds the migration path for enterprises, said Dave Bartoletti, Forrester analyst.
Dave BartolettiAnalyst, Forrester Research
For example, if an enterprise runs an optimized Oracle database or an existing set of IBM middleware apps and does not want to operate an on-premises data center, bare metal is an appealing option.
"Bare metal will have a growing place in the public cloud, primarily as a migration target for existing workloads," Bartoletti said. "And that is one reason Oracle is going after this space big time."
AWS, Azure and Google are still largely focused on providing virtualized, multi-tenant environments but will likely add more options for bare-metal cloud services in the future. The big challenge all cloud providers face will be how to move the next set of large enterprises to the cloud. A pure public cloud is a big change for legacy workloads, so if cloud providers really want to get them out of the data center, they will offer bare metal.
Exactly how that market will play out, however, remains to be seen.
"We see the first step in cloud migration of mission-critical, or core, business applications is a lift and shift [to bare metal], then it is a rewrite to cloud-native over the long term," Illsley said.