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A Comprehensive Guide To Bare Metal Provision – UPDATED 2023

A Comprehensive Guide To Bare Metal Provision – UPDATED 2023
A Comprehensive Guide To Bare Metal Provision – UPDATED 2023
This article delves into the concept of Bare Metal Provisioning, exploring its definition, advantages, and many other aspects.

Posted in: Digital Transformation
A Comprehensive Guide To Bare Metal Provision – UPDATED 2023
A Comprehensive Guide To Bare Metal Provision – UPDATED 2023

In enterprise computing environments, "bare metal" or "Bare Metal Provisioning" refers to standard and basic computer systems. 

When a computer is initially shipped from the manufacturer, it is considered to be in a bare metal state. While it lacks pre-installed software, it does come equipped with essential hardware components like processors, motherboards, hard disks, and network cards.

To make use of the computer, a user accesses the built-in firmware/BIOS, which allows them to operate the system and install their preferred operating system (OS). 

In case the firmware or BIOS utility is not readily available, it can be installed using external storage sources such as serial, parallel, Universal Serial Bus (USB), or optical storage devices. 

This article delves into the concept of Bare Metal Provisioning, exploring its definition, advantages, and many other aspects. 

To learn more, keep on reading.

A Brief Primer On Bare Metal Provisioning Tools

Bare Metal Provisioning

The process of setting up and configuring physical servers or "bare metal" machines without any operating system or software pre-installed. 

This is commonly used in data centers and cloud environments where administrators need to deploy and manage a large number of servers efficiently.

Several tools are available for automating the bare metal provisioning process. 

These tools streamline the server deployment, ensuring consistency and reducing manual effort. 

Here are some popular ones:

  • Cobbler - Cobbler is an open-source Linux installation server that simplifies the network-based installation of various operating systems. It supports multiple distributions and helps administrators manage DHCP, DNS, and PXE configurations.
  • Foreman - Foreman is an open-source lifecycle management tool for physical and virtual servers. It provides provisioning, configuration management, and monitoring capabilities. It supports various provisioning methods, including PXE, DHCP, and BMC (Baseboard Management Controller) interfaces.
  • iPXE - iPXE is an open-source network boot firmware that allows you to boot your servers over the network. It extends the capabilities of PXE and can be used in conjunction with other provisioning tools to improve network booting performance.
  • Razor - Razor is an open-source provisioning solution designed to work with Puppet for server configuration. It can discover and provision bare metal machines automatically and supports different Linux distributions.
  • MAAS (Metal as a Service) - MAAS is an open-source tool developed by Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu). It allows you to treat physical servers as a cloud, enabling easy provisioning, dynamic allocation, and reallocation of resources.
  • Digital Rebar - Digital Rebar is an open-source bare metal provisioning and infrastructure management tool. It focuses on automating complex data center processes, including discovery, provisioning, and configuration management.
  • Terraform - Although primarily known as an infrastructure as code tool, Terraform can also be used for bare metal provisioning through its provider ecosystem. Some providers enable interaction with BMCs or IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) to deploy and manage bare metal servers.

These tools vary in complexity, capabilities, and support for different hardware types. 

When choosing a bare metal provisioning tool, consider factors like the size of your infrastructure, the level of automation required, hardware compatibility, and integration with other management tools. 

Understanding Bare Metal Provisioning

Bare metal servers are a type of cloud service where users lease a dedicated physical machine from a provider, without sharing it with other tenants.

Unlike conventional cloud computing that relies on virtual machines, bare metal servers do not come with a pre-installed hypervisor, granting users full control over their server infrastructure.

By utilizing a bare metal server, users gain complete authority over the physical machine, allowing them to choose their preferred operating system, avoid the challenges of shared infrastructure (such as "noisy neighbor" issues), and optimize hardware and software for specific, often data-intensive, workloads.

In the realm of cloud computing, bare metal servers, along with virtual machines, networking, and storage, form the foundational components of the infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) stack. 

What Are The Benefits of bare metal servers?

Bare metal servers offer various key advantages, primarily stemming from the direct access end users have to hardware resources. 

This approach brings about the following benefits:

  • Improved physical isolation, leading to enhanced security and regulatory compliance advantages.
  • Greater processing power compared to virtualized environments.
  • Full control over the software stack, allowing for customization and tailored configurations.
  • Consistently reliable disk and network I/O performance.
  • Superior quality of service (QoS) achieved by eliminating the disruptive "noisy neighbor" phenomenon.

Given their exceptional blend of performance and control, bare metal servers play a vital role in the infrastructure mix for many companies.

Ansible Bare Metal Provisioning

Ansible Bare Metal Provisioning

Ansible Bare Metal Provisioning refers to the process of using Ansible, an open-source automation tool, to automate the provisioning and configuration of physical servers or bare metal machines. 

Unlike virtual machines or cloud instances, bare metal provisioning involves setting up servers from scratch, often involving tasks like operating system installation, network configuration, package installation, and other system configurations.

Here's a general overview of how Ansible Bare Metal Provisioning works:

  • Inventory Setup - Define an inventory file in Ansible that lists all the bare metal servers you want to provision. This file should contain details like server IP addresses, hostnames, and any other required information.
  • Ansible Playbooks - Create Ansible playbooks, which are YAML files containing sets of tasks and configurations to be applied to the target servers. Each playbook usually has specific roles like installing the OS, configuring network settings, installing packages, and more.
  • Roles and Tasks - Organize your playbooks into reusable roles and define tasks within them. Roles allow you to structure your provisioning process efficiently and make it easier to maintain and scale.
  • Variable Management - Use variables in your playbooks to make them adaptable to different server configurations or environments. Variables can be defined in separate files or in the inventory itself.
  • Bootstrap - Before you can run the Ansible playbooks, you may need to bootstrap the bare metal servers with a minimal environment, like a basic OS installation, SSH access, and Python installed, so Ansible can connect and perform tasks.
  • Execution - Run the Ansible playbooks against the bare metal servers using the ansible-playbook command. Ansible will connect to each server via SSH, execute the defined tasks, and apply the desired configurations.
  • Verification - After provisioning, you can perform verification tests to ensure that the servers are correctly set up according to your requirements.
  • Maintenance and Updates - You can continue to use Ansible to perform ongoing maintenance tasks, apply updates, or make configuration changes as needed.

Ansible Bare Metal Provisioning is valuable for organizations that prefer to manage their own hardware infrastructure or have specialized requirements that are not easily met by virtual machines or cloud services. 

It enables consistent and repeatable server setups and reduces the manual effort involved in provisioning and managing bare metal servers. 

Automated Bare Metal Provisioning

Automated Bare Metal Provisioning

Automating bare-metal provisioning offers several advantages over manual provisioning. 

However, it's essential to be aware that automation can still present various challenges during the provisioning and configuration process. 

To avoid these pitfalls, it is crucial to adhere to the following best practices for provisioning and configuration:

  • Bootstrap the environment using seed devices to initialize the setup efficiently.
  • Ensure edge devices are as homogenous as possible, promoting consistency in the infrastructure.
  • Automatically build and customize OS and firmware images before deploying them to the devices.
  • Minimize the storage of stateful information on edge devices to enhance their stability and reliability.
  • Orchestrate workloads running on devices and manage their lifecycle effectively.
  • Monitor devices to track performance rather than leaving them in an uncertain state.
  • Implement an unattended booting mechanism to improve infrastructure maintainability.
  • Integrate retry and fallback mechanisms to enable devices to recover from failures and inconsistent states securely.

What is a Virtual Private Server (VPS)?

Bare Metal Provisioning Tools

A cloud Virtual Private Server (VPS) is a virtual operating system that exists within a main server, specifically created to allocate resources to virtual servers. 

It functions much like a physical server, with similar processes and capabilities.

VPS hosting is commonly employed for smaller workloads that require reliable performance. 

The parent server hosts several virtual servers, ensuring their complete isolation from one another. 

However, they may share networking resources, which could lead to "noisy neighbor" issues if one of the VPS tenants experiences unusual problems. 

Bare Metal Vs VPS – How They Differ?

Bare Metal Vs VPS

Bare Metal and Virtual Private Servers (VPS) are two distinct hosting options, each with its own set of characteristics and use cases. 

Here's a comparison of the two:

  1. Physical vs. Virtual Environment:
    • Bare Metal: In a bare metal server, you are provided with complete access to a dedicated physical server. There is no virtualization layer between your software and the underlying hardware.
    • VPS: A VPS is a virtualized server hosted on a physical machine. The host machine uses a hypervisor to create multiple virtual servers, and each VPS operates independently.
  2. Resource Allocation:
    • Bare Metal: Since you have exclusive access to the entire server's resources, including CPU, RAM, storage, etc., you can utilize the full power of the hardware without contention from other users.
    • VPS: Resources on a VPS are shared among multiple virtual servers on the same physical machine. While each VPS operates independently, resource allocation is divided among all the virtual instances.
  3. Performance:
    • Bare Metal: Due to its dedicated nature, bare metal servers generally offer better performance, especially for resource-intensive applications that require consistent access to high computing power.
    • VPS: Performance can be affected by the activities of neighboring VPSs on the same host machine. If one VPS consumes a significant amount of resources, it may impact the performance of others.
  4. Scalability:
    • Bare Metal: Scaling a bare metal server usually involves more downtime and manual hardware adjustments, making it less flexible for rapid scalability.
    • VPS: VPS hosting allows for easier scalability. You can upgrade or downgrade your virtual server's resources quickly without significant downtime.
  5. Isolation and Security:
    • Bare Metal: Since there is no virtualization layer, the risk of security breaches due to shared resources is minimal. However, the responsibility for security measures lies entirely with the user.
    • VPS: While VPS instances are isolated from each other, vulnerabilities in the virtualization layer or misconfigurations may expose your data to potential risks.   VPS with DDoS protection can mitigate these risks by filtering out malicious traffic and distributing traffic across multiple servers.
  6. Cost:
    • Bare Metal: Bare metal servers tend to be more expensive as you are paying for the exclusive use of the entire physical server.
    • VPS: VPS hosting is generally more cost-effective, as the cost is shared among multiple users on the same physical machine.
  7. Use Cases:
    • Bare Metal: Ideal for resource-intensive workloads, large-scale applications, and scenarios where high performance and customization are crucial.
    • VPS: Suitable for small to medium-sized websites, development environments, testing, and applications with moderate resource requirements.

The choice between bare metal and VPS hosting depends on your specific needs and budget. 

If you require maximum performance, control, and have high resource demands, a bare metal server might be the better option. 

On the other hand, if you are looking for cost-effective hosting with scalability and isolation, a VPS is likely more suitable. 

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