Down to the metal on the rise

Talk of the bare metal cloud certainly has a strong “back to the future” feel to it (as in most things tech these days). Renting whole servers and packing them with your applications sans virtual machines. IBM, Rackspace, Internap, and Centurylink have gotten into the act. No VMs: Seems to go against the very grain of the cloud. But for large, I/O intensive applications, bare metal looks to represent the way forward. Containers appear to be a big step in this direction. Docker is clearly a game changer with its ability to package applications in containers that could be rapidly dispatched to the cloud in just a “few clicks.”

A related concept seems to be that of microservices. Distributed applications are broken down into little pieces, many thousands of them and more (sounds like SOA, yet another example of how old is new again). Each piece can be wrapped up in a container and shipped to servers on the cloud.

There is an exciting array of tools emerging to get a handle on these developments. Docker is one. Also there are solutions like Kubernetes to help manage containers (assuming the use of Kubernetes is expanded beyond the Google platform) and Mesos to pull together clusters of computers in which they reside. Caveat though: it has all got to be on Linux (which should not be a huge deterrent, a recent survey by the Linux foundation has 75 percent of the large enterprises surveyed using Linux as their primary cloud platform). Today Kubernetes and Mesos may not be familiar names but that should be changing sooner rather than later.

The operative words are “Google like infrastructure,” doing things at web scale. If that is the direction that you are headed in then spinning up thousands of VMs is probably not the answer. Thousands (or even millions and more) of containers is more like it. Google apparently manages a few billion of them.

Holding back a number of enterprises from sending their large and important workloads to the cloud has been the underlying connotation of risk and loss of control. Now with the advent of Docker and platforms like Mesos, it appears that they can set up massively scalable infrastructure within their own data centers on bare metal. Taking advantage of the cloud’s promise of agility without its attendant risks has become possible.

Even smaller enterprises can use these tools to perform computing at web scale without running up huge cloud bills by leveraging resources more effectively.

This seems to put the whole future of the public cloud in question. Some workloads will still go there but that could diminish over time. Companies like Amazon and VMware must be only too aware of the threat. They have been scrambling to align themselves with Docker, for instance. And Docker itself is no longer able to look at unchallenged growth in the container space. Its longtime partner, CoreOS, has come out with a rival offering, suitably named “Rocket.”

CoreOS built their Linux as a service offering around Docker. However they soon seem to have concluded that interests were not perfectly aligned. So they proceeded to launch their own product. Others are trying to catch up as well. Canonical with LXD, for example.

All open source options. It appears that the future of the cloud lies in the open source model. Time for a shakeout is what it looks like. Freedom from large, recurring license fees means more and more organizations can get to web scale without burning a hole in their bank accounts. Stepping back to where it all began – down to bare metal – will likely mark the rise of the next phase of the cloud.


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