If you typed “bare metal meaning” into a search engine, you’d probably be offered two answers. Firstly, it can be a computer without an operating system. Secondly, it can be a cloud server that is assigned for the sole use of a specific client (or tenant). Both forms of bare metal have a variety of uses. Here is a quick guide to what you need to know.
When the term “bare metal” was originally coined, its meaning was very literal. All software written to run on bare metal computers was designed to interact directly with the underlying hardware. In other words, it literally worked on bare metal.
Now, the term “bare metal” is more likely to refer to a bare metal cloud server. A bare metal cloud server may indeed be a traditional bare metal computer. It is, however, also possible for a bare metal cloud server to be provided with an operating system and/or virtualization infrastructure.
The reasons for using both traditional bare metal computers and modern bare metal cloud servers are much the same. Here are the main ones.
An operating system is essentially an interface between the user and the computer’s hardware. This is hugely useful for the vast majority of users.
For real power users, however, an operating system can be an unwelcome and unnecessary interference. They prefer to have direct control over the computer’s hardware. This means they prefer bare metal computers.
In a cloud environment, some users may be perfectly happy to have a bare metal server provided with an operating system. They will, however, want total ownership of the entire machine including the operating system. Again, this is so they can have the highest possible level of control over it.
Operating systems need resources to run. If you can live without an operating system, you can redeploy those resources for use in other tasks. This can make for noticeably faster processing.
In a cloud environment, using a bare metal server guarantees that the server will be used for the tenant and the tenant alone. This ensures that the tenant will gain the full benefit of the server’s resources.
This is essentially a corollary of the previous point. By taking the operating system out of the picture, you can deploy a computer’s full resources to process its workload. This means that it can handle larger workloads without struggling.
Likewise, in a cloud environment if you have full use of a server then you are guaranteed to have its full resources available to you whenever you need them. This in itself may not be a huge benefit since it’s so easy to scale in the public cloud. It does, however, bring two implicit benefits.
The first is that your costs will be much more predictable. You will simply pay for the bare metal server and use it as you wish. You will not have to scale up and scale down in response to demand. The second is that you will not be at risk of being charged for resources just because people have forgotten to cancel them.
True bare metal servers are a popular choice for testing and development because they remove a source of potential interference, namely the operating system. This means that people can see the results of the test in isolation. When they are happy with them, they may then choose to conduct the test on a machine with an operating system.
Likewise in a cloud environment, having full control over a system means you have a guarantee that there will be no external interference. Again, even in the public cloud, there shouldn’t be any interference from any other tenants (deliberate or accidental).
In the real world, however, people well understand that there is a difference between “shouldn’t be” and “isn’t”. With a bare metal server, you are guaranteed to have protection from any external interference.
Every element in a computer is a potential point of vulnerability. Some elements of a computer, however, are much more vulnerable to security breaches than others. Operating systems tend to be much more vulnerable to security breaches than physical hardware.
This is essentially because they are much more accessible. Firstly, it may be possible to manipulate them remotely. Even if it isn’t, it can still be easier to gain physical access to them than it is to gain physical access to a machine’s interior.
Secondly, it’s relatively easy to learn about the working of an operating system. It’s much harder to learn how to operate a computer through the underlying hardware. The fact that there are numerous potential hardware configurations makes the challenge even greater.
In a cloud environment, the fact that a client has full use of a bare metal server gives them the highest possible level of protection against security compromises. Again, these should not happen in a public cloud. They are, however, less unlikely than with a bare metal server.
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