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Bare Metal Cloud for DevOps Engineers

Written by Mantas Levinas
on May 08, 2019

In a typical organization from a decade ago, development and operations teams had separate and distinct responsibilities. Developers took care of coding software programs, which they then handed over to the operations team once completed. IT operations then deployed the programs across the organization.

In the above environment, development and operations were insulated from each other. Development was at the forefront, with operations bringing up the end. The separate silos meant there was often a disconnect between the two teams, with problems potentially coming up near the end, when development was almost over. It wasn’t surprising that there was often friction between these two teams. Software deployment then wasn’t as easy as it should have been.

Fast forward a decade later, and that wall between development and IT operations had crumbled, brought down by the rise of a DevOps culture in organizations, with DevOps, being an amalgam of development and operations, seeking to make software deployment easier. Contributing to the popularity of DevOps is its suitability to the Software as a Service model that has become a popular software development standard in recent years.

The rise of DevOps has seen an increased demand for DevOps engineers, or people with the required set of skills needed to make DevOps a success. The typical DevOps engineer is either a developer who has transitioned to acquiring the required operational skills or an operator who has acquired the requisite developer skills needed for successful software deployment.

In this article, we cover the significance of DevOps and its impact on deploying software to the cloud. We also discuss the pros and cons of the traditional hyperscale providers and Bare Metal Cloud, two competing technologies for your cloud needs. Finally, we tackle the question of when is the best time to shift from traditional hyperscale to a Bare Metal Cloud environment.

The Current State of DevOps

DevOps, which stands for development and operations, seeks to streamline the development lifecycle and make it more responsive to business objectives. Thus, a steady stream of updates and improvements is a major characteristic in an organization with a highly-evolved DevOps culture. To ease deployment in an environment characterized by a constant state of flux, DevOps encourages collaboration and reuse, allowing teams to identify potential problems early in the development process, deploy more frequently, and spend less time on resolving issues.

Other characteristics of DevOps include the use of the following:

  • Source code management – a centralized code repository is essential to ensuring conflicts do not arise when different teams are working on a project.
  • Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) – with a single source code repository, integration, development, and testing processes are streamlined, accelerating software creation on the go
  • Configuration management – Ensure automatic and reliable infrastructure deployment every single time
  • Infrastructure management – Infrastructure as code means easier marshalling of resources in the face of growing demand
  • Package management – Modern DevOps microservices require containers that allow limitless scaling out
  • Scheduling and orchestration – Maximal resource utilization in the face of ever-changing workloads require containerized fault-tolerant applications
  • Monitoring – Constant monitoring is required to ensure that applications and toolchains do not break down somewhere along the line

There is now a growing demand for tools that make it easy to perform the above functions. Many of these tools are open-source, too. Examples include GitLab, Jenkins, Travis, Ansible, Juju, Docker, Kubernetes, and NetData. Many cloud providers also have their own set of proprietary tools performing these same functions.

DevOps seems to merit becoming a buzzword in recent years. A 2018 report on the state of DevOps indicate that about 11% of the total number of organizations surveyed have highly-evolved DevOps cultures, meaning they follow the best DevOps practices most of the time. Almost 80% are somewhere in between high and low, meaning they follow some of the best DevOps practices sometimes. A mere 10% identify as low, meaning they don’t use DevOps best practices in their daily work. According to this trend, expect the number of highly-evolved DevOps organizations to peak in the years to come.

DevOps and the Traditional Cloud

With the emphasis on streamlining the development pipeline, a DevOps methodology seems well-suited for implementation in the cloud, as it fits well with the agility and fast infrastructure provisioning offered by traditional hyperscale providers.

Cloud compute infrastructure is ideal for those transitioning to DevOps. With code provisioning in the hands of their cloud provider, development teams can focus on what they do best – code and test the features they need to add to their systems. When it comes time to deploy, they just simply automate the process through the available tools at their provider.

However, there are caveats to using the traditional cloud for DevOps. When your organization becomes bigger and more people start using your systems regularly, you may find your costs spiraling beyond control. This is because a higher number of clicks means higher prices. If you find your cloud provider’s low barrier to entry tempting at first, that might not be true anymore once you start paying higher fees for your growing user base.

Moreover, if you are not careful, you may become tied to using proprietary tools of your cloud provider. In some instances, you may have to pay upfront to renew the skills of your engineers and train them to use these tools. When the time comes and you need to migrate to some other vendor, it becomes a real burden. Not only you would have to rearchitect your cloud stack, but also train your engineers with a new set of cloud tools.

In addition, cloud providers add a virtualization layer to their compute infrastructure and often overbook hardware resources to be able to handle more clients. Resources that are divided for use among multiple clients might mean that your share of the server might not be up to the task of handling the workloads from your users, jeopardizing the efficiency and effectiveness of your systems. If you have paying customers, this might ruin your reputation, so you must keep an additional buffer of compute resources that adds up to your overall expenses.

Lastly, security vulnerabilities might impact your systems, particularly when other organizations that you share server resources with do not have the same dedication to making their systems as secure as yours. Data breaches and malware infestation, among others, are an all too real problem, if you have ‘noisy neighbors’ with poorly-secured virtual machines residing on the same physical hardware as your own. If these neighboring machines are somehow subjected to a cyberattack, your machines will be caught in the crossfire.

What is Bare Metal Cloud?

In the light of the problems associated with traditional clouds, it is imperative to look for alternatives   once your fledgling operation becomes a fully-fledged one. Bare Metal Cloud is one such option. If you’re only thinking of transitioning to the cloud now, you should also keep this option in mind.

A Bare Metal Cloud server does away with the virtualization layer prevalent in traditional clouds. Your own DevOps people have full root-access control over the server. With unfettered access to the server, it is as if you have an on-premise server at your full disposal, unlike the hypervisor-only access in traditional hyperscale. There is also no sharing of resources with other organizations. Instead, you have total control over the hardware. You can provision, clone, upgrade, downgrade, or migrate servers when you need to.

At the same time, fast provisioning and the convenience of hourly billing is still possible in a bare metal cloud. Thus, if you find that your server is not performing up to par, you can quickly provision more resources to scale up your systems.

Bare metal cloud also does not tie you down to proprietary technologies. Instead, you can use open-source DevOps tools your people are already comfortable with on your own bare metal cloud server. There is no need to train on anything else, plus the required skills are transferable within your team. DevOps engineers can integrate your chosen open-source cloud-native stack with bare metal cloud seamlessly via API.

When is Bare Metal Cloud a Viable DevOps Option?

Bare metal cloud is particularly viable in the following instances:

  • When you do not lack DevOps talent with required skills and want to have choice. While traditional hyperscale cloud providers, such as AWS, Azure, and Google, abstract away some service management hassle, the advantage of bare metal cloud is that it gives you total freedom to choose and exploit your selected cloud-native software stack. Although this requires additional manpower to handle software management and maintenance tasks, you get total freedom to create a vendor-agnostic IT infrastructure.
  • When your technology stack is already based on open source and you want to make a swift and seamless migration. If your engineers are already experienced in using open source DevOps tools such as Ansible, Docker, and Kubernetes, your organization will find transitioning to bare metal cloud easier than most.
  • When you anticipate a need for increased compute resources from the beginning. Bare metal cloud servers typically have high compute capacity, which you may not necessarily need when starting up. On the other hand, if you expect high-end workloads in the early stages of your project, bare metal servers will give you more compute power per dollar. As hyperscale providers tend to lock their customer in, it’s worth considering if investing in bare metal cloud in the early stages of your business has a worthwhile return on investment in the long run.
  • When you need to have a fully dedicated and fully automated infrastructure. Single-tenant infrastructure is quite limited at hyperscale providers and usually has substantial costs included. While hyperscale providers offer single-tenant infrastructure on virtual machines, bare metal cloud has no virtualization layer. This allows hyperscale providers to spin-up new servers in under a minute, while bare metal cloud machines are typically deployed within 10 minutes. Nevertheless, having no virtualization overhead and hardware level control is often more important for those who need a fully dedicated infrastructure.

Conclusion

DevOps has grown in use from the time the term was coined in 2009. In the years hence, many organizations have adopted DevOps to improve their system development processes. The number of organizations with highly-evolved DevOps cultures is expected to increase even more in the coming years.

At the same time DevOps was becoming a buzzword, the traditional cloud had seen growing use among organizations attracted to it because of convenience and a low barrier to entry. With its emphasis on fast turnaround times, DevOps seems tailor-fitted for the fast provisioning that was characteristic among traditional hyperscale providers.

However, traditional cloud does have its problems. For one thing, it has been criticized for its lack of privacy and security, since you are sharing the same hardware with other organizations that might not be as obsessed with security best practices as you are. Reliability is yet another potential problem, as the virtual machines that sit on top of the traditional cloud and their resources are divided for use between your organization and other organizations on the same compute infrastructure. In case of poor performance, you are constrained to get more resources at a higher cost.

Moreover, you might get tied down to using proprietary software that a traditional hyperscale provider offers. You do not want this to happen, given that there is a wide array of open-source tools available out there for handling DevOps tasks. Getting attached to a proprietary technology might prove costly for you in the long run.

The problems associated with the traditional cloud can be avoided by getting a bare metal cloud server. Reliability would not be an issue, since your organization will not be sharing server resources with any other. In the same vein, your privacy and security concerns would be taken care of. Since your people are free to use the bare metal cloud server as their own, they can also utilize any DevOps tool they see fit. Best of all, bare metal cloud retains the main advantages of traditional cloud: fast provisioning and hourly billing.

To sum up, the choice of using Traditional Cloud or Bare Metal Cloud boils down to the question of whether your DevOps engineers can manage your own cloud compute infrastructure or not. If your people have the required DevOps skills, you may find Bare Metal Cloud the better option among the two.