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Bare metal is helping some datacenter operators weave an edge computing story

April 22 2021
by Craig Matsumoto


Introduction


Bare-metal services are not new, but they are now showing up in the context of edge computing at the datacenter level (as opposed to the edge computing found on end-user devices or on the enterprise premises). Equinix and Lumen have launched bare-metal services on subsets of their footprints, specifically targeting edge workloads, while Cyxtera continues to advance the on-demand bare-metal platform that it launched in 2018. The interest is understandable, considering edge computing is still an emerging category. Customers will tend to be digital leaders, likely to have a clear idea of what they want the edge to do, and they will want to bring the software development resources to make it happen. What they need is the physical infrastructure, and because we're talking about 'the edge,' location matters. Multi-tenant datacenters (MTDCs) believe they can provide that combination.

The 451 Take

For all the talk surrounding the current incarnation of 'the edge,' we cannot say what form it will eventually take. Mainstream use cases might not follow the patterns of the early adopters, which tend to hail from Industrial IoT. For MTDCs, bare metal makes a good ground-level gambit for edge computing. An MTDC can offer the hardware and networking support to today's edge devotees, allowing them to tailor the software environment to their needs. Moreover, future edge computing customers will likely want managed services as opposed to the DIY model. In offering bare metal, the MTDC can cater to early customers while putting effort into developing those managed services, which could run on that same bare metal. The edge might not live up to the hype in the long run, but demand does exist in some quarters, and bare-metal IaaS lets MTDCs chase those opportunities while laying a foundation for services that run further up the stack.

Context


The edge is at its most interesting when it is cloud native, matching the elasticity and instant-on provisioning that end users and application owners have come to expect from the public clouds. (The applications themselves don't have to be cloud native; we are talking about a cloud-native means of delivering edge infrastructure.) MTDCs occupy the real estate to serve certain types of edge, but traditional colocation is not cloud-native; it doesn't match the cloud's on-demand experience, especially for new customers. Colocation requires contracts and equipment deployment, and it is not always well suited for small projects such as the support of one application at one site. Bare-metal services can smooth out some of these issues. Because the hardware is installed ahead of time, an MTDC can offer bare metal in an on-demand, IaaS fashion. This can be combined with software-programmable interconnection so that network connectivity can be established or changed on demand, as well.

Bare metal can seem downright old-school compared with the prepackaged and highly automated services of public cloud. With bare metal, the customer receives blank-slate servers and storage, upon which they run their choice of software – operating system, hypervisor, Kubernetes distribution and so on. A bare-metal provider likely offers a range of hardware choices, such as server CPU/GPU options from the likes of Intel, NVIDIA, Arm and AMD; notably, these resources are dedicated. The result is an environment that can be customized for the application. That gives bare metal a reputation for high performance because advanced customers can hone the software to make the best use of CPU cycles, without worrying about other virtualized tenants eating up those cycles.

When it comes to MTDCs and the edge, however, the advantage that might be most applicable is flexibility. An application owner can use bare metal as a way to apply familiar software tools while offloading hardware management to the MTDC. That makes bare metal a potentially fast way to stand up a legacy application – or an application that is moving from the lab into production, as could be the case with some edge deployments. Bare-metal services are available from clouds such as LeaseWeb and OVHcloud, as well as from hyperscalers, but our focus here is on the edge – on bringing this environment to places outside the cloud.

The primordial edge


Just 20% of enterprises say they are using edge computing, but another 19% have it in their plans or under consideration, according to our Digital Pulse, Budgets and Outlook 2021. If we zoom in solely on enterprises considering themselves digital transformation leaders (as opposed to learners or laggards), we see 30.2% using edge computing now and another 14.6% having edge computing in discovery or in plan. In other words, nearly half of these digital leaders are working earnestly with edge computing. This matters because this audience is more adept with cloud-native infrastructure and might find an 'easy button' service too rigid for their plans. This is the kind of audience that can be well served with bare metal, which lets them stick to comfortable choices of OS, hypervisor, Kubernetes distribution and DevOps tools. All of this provides a further reason for MTDCs to apply bare metal to this market. Many of the enterprises pursuing edge computing right now are digital leaders – the type that can work with a DIY environment, and just might demand it. They will want to tinker. Bare metal provides that option.

Figure 1: Digital Leaders Are the Ones Embracing Edge Computing Figure 1: Digital Leaders Are the Ones Embracing Edge Computing

Digital Transformation Leaders

Digital Transformation Learners

Digital Transformation Laggards

Sample Size

96

27

56

In Use

30.2%

14.8%

7.1%

In Discovery/proof of concept

14.6%

7.4%

10.7%

Plan to implement in next 12 months

5.2%

11.1%

1.8%

Plan to implement in next 24 months

1.0%

7.4%

0.0%

Considering, but no current plan to implement

12.5%

18.5%

21.4%

Not in use/not in plan

36.5%

40.7%

58.9%


451 Research, Digital Pulse, Budgets & Outlook 2021

Q: How would you describe the level of edge computing usage within your organization? There is reason to keep edge enthusiasm tempered, however. Most of the enterprises deploying edge computing are doing so in relatively small amounts, sticking to centralized locations such as a cloud (public or private) or a datacenter. Dreams of a widely distributed edge – possibly federated among the resources of multiple telcos, content-delivery networks and other providers – are being pursued by several startups, but remain aspirational.

MTDCs offering bare metal


Equinix Metal, the IaaS offering built around 2020's Packet acquisition, debuted in October 2020 and is now available for orders in 18 of Equinix's metro markets. A partnership with Pure Storage adds cloud-native storage to that mix. Among the scenarios that Equinix Metal targets are hybrid cloud implementation, cloud-adjacent storage, edge delivery and disaster recovery as a service.

Lumen, the former CenturyLink, sold its colocation business (which is now part of Cyxtera), but still runs datacenters of its own and operates other facilities, such as central offices. Combining these options, Lumen has launched a plan to blanket the United States with edge computing, aiming to use 75 sites to place edge nodes within five milliseconds' latency of 98% of US enterprises. Bare metal is the first step, launched to 20 initial locations in February 2020. This bare-metal infrastructure will also provide the hardware for future edge services that Lumen is developing.

Established in 2017, Cyxtera has been developing new technologies to extend its offerings in the business of retail colocation. One early result was the launch of an on-demand bare-metal service, positioned partly as a fast-deploying alternative to traditional colocation. The service is enabled by Cyxtera's digital exchange, an interconnection platform built on software-defined networking that powers services controlled via APIs or a customer portal. Cyxtera's Enterprise Bare Metal is available in 12 markets, the most recent additions being Amsterdam and Frankfurt.

Any discussion of the edge must include the clouds themselves. Bare-metal cloud providers could certainly extend to the edge by partnering with an MTDC; this is what Zenlayer has done with EdgeConneX. The hyperscalers, meanwhile, are bringing their cloud stacks to the edge in forms such as AWS Outposts, AWS Wavelength, Azure Stack, Azure IoT and Google Anthos. Specific to the bare-metal argument, Google Cloud Platform announced Anthos for Bare Metal in September 2020. Anthos is not strictly an edge play, as it is intended to eventually accommodate hybrid scenarios of edge and multicloud.