November 1, 2013 | Written by: Ignacio Macias Jareño
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SoftLayer provides a cloud solution that not all cloud providers have (from a server architecture point of view). It provides the possibility to mix physical dedicated servers with virtualized servers to create your workload. If you are currently looking for a certain application for a physical database, most cloud providers will make you migrate this physical system to a virtualized server. This brings up a question: if physical servers acting as hypervisors are becoming really powerful, with lots of memory, CPU and high throughput, why would I still want a physical server? The general trend is to have as much virtualization as possible, so I why I would go against that notion and why would I not benefit from virtualization?
Why a bare metal server may be required
Let’s see an example. Most companies have a server architecture as the most critical (or one of the most critical) services, where one of the components is a database server. If you want a database server to perform well, you would say it needs CPU (as much as possible or at least enough to support peaks), memory equivalent to the CPU and fast access to disk for reads and writes. To provide an example, this is like if I had a fast car (CPU and memory) and a multi-lane highway with no speed limits, where I am the only driver. I will be able to move as fast as possible (reads and writes), at anytime.
Now if we put this same database server in a cloud environment, the resources will not be fully dedicated to this workload. A cloud environment is a resourced pool, which means all the resources available are shared between all the workloads. Since it is not bare metal, you are introducing an extra layer between the operating system and the physical resources (CPU and memory), which is the hypervisor. We won’t be able to have read and writes work as fast as in the previous environment, because this channel is also shared between the different workloads.
Coming back to the car example, in this environment I still have a fast car but it is a little bit slower because of the hypervisor and the sharing of CPU and memory resources. I am no longer the only one on our multi-lane highway, so there will be some type of traffic. I will still be able to get to my destination, but just not as quickly.
The decision to have a bare metal server comes down mainly to a performance discussion independent of the functionality of the server. Normally, high performance servers are databases but you may have other servers with these requirements, such as an application server.
SoftLayer’s cloud solution provides the possibility to mix bare metal infrastructure and virtual server instances as required. This is a important difference for me, because most cloud providers only offer the possibility to use virtual servers, which can prevent your migration to a cloud environment. If you have virtual machines and you want to migrate to cloud, you know that in most cases your workload should not face any problems since the origin and the destination are quite similar for both virtual infrastructures.
But what happens when you have a physical server? With most cloud providers, the decision can be to maintain the server as a bare metal server and not migrate the workload to cloud or virtualize this server. SoftLayer doesn’t require you to change your workload settings. If you want it to be in a physical server, you have the possibility and if you want it to become a virtual server instance, you can. In both cases, you are integrated in a cloud solution.
This is why a SoftLayer solution allows us to benefit from the best of both worlds: the physical one and the virtual one. It does not require you to change your server architecture.