Would Amazon ever offer a bare metal public cloud?

Cloud vendors seem to be in no rush to offer bare metal, but they have alternatives

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Hosted bare metal is emerging as an intriguing alternative to some IaaS public cloud workloads. Companies like IBM, Rackspace, Internap and others offer customers non-virtualized compute servers for rent by the hour, at a premium price.

One vendor that has not dipped its toe in this water though is the biggest IaaS cloud provider of them all: Amazon Web Services. Interestingly, neither Microsoft Azure nor Google cloud have entered the hosted bare metal market either.

Would AWS ever offer a bare metal cloud? I asked that question to the man who used to run AWS’s virtual machine business, Deepak Singh at AWS’s re:Invent conference earlier this year.

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“The way we think about it is that from an EC2 instance perspective, we want to deliver performance that is indistinguishable from bare metal,” said Singh, who now runs AWS’s Elastic Container Service. “When you really ask people why they want bare metal, they have performance characteristic expectations. Our goal is to deliver those performance characteristics, however we do so in a way that’s secure and operable.”

That doesn't sound like AWS is coming out with bare metal offerings any time soon.

AWS has moved in the direction of bare metal, though. AWS offers two flavors of “dedicated” offerings. Dedicated Instances are a premium priced service compared to EC2 VMs, but unlike EC2 AWS guarantees that the customer requesting the instance is the only tenant on that machine. It’s not bare metal though because it’s still a virtualized server.

Earlier this year AWS released Dedicated Hosts, which are meant to help customers migrate legacy software licenses that require per-socket or per core authentication (Windows Server, Microsoft SQL and other enterprise apps have this requirement).

AWS has other options for customers to fine tune the performance of their VMs, Singh noted. The company's C4 EC2 instances allow customers to control the C-State and P-State of the Intel processor, which control the idle time and processing capacity and of the silicon chip. If customers want, they can ramp both up to full usage, giving bare metal-like performance in a VM. I2 Instances allow customers to control the input/output (I/O) performance of the SSDs (solid state drives) it uses. Again, not bare metal, but close.

Google has its own work-around for not offering bare metal servers. The company recently launched a beta of Custom Machine Types, which give customers the ability to define the virtual CPU and memory of their VM.

Why don’t IaaS vendors just offer hosted bare metal? They get a lot of value out of using a hypervisor in terms of network management, security and other operational benefits. Plus, they’ve custom developed their hypervisor to be as lightweight as possible.

With increased interest from customers to access bare metal servers though, don’t be surprised if you see hosted bare metal from some of the big cloud providers one day.

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