Containers. Elasticity. Public Cloud. Private Cloud. Hyper Converged. Big Data. Hadoop Clusters.
Buzz words? You could say that. What we see though is Servers. Lots of them. Whether you’re building your own empire in a private cloud, setting the world alight like one of our customers Multiplay in the gaming industry, or you’re the latest buzz-surrounded small business start-up driving the latest craze in Pokémon. It doesn’t matter, you quite simply need servers. A few clicks from our CloudSure Portal, or a fully mapped out journey to the public cloud with Amazon Web Services all share the underlying requirement of physical tin to get your adventure started.
We’ve seen this coming for quite some time, as one of the first providers in the UK to offer a fully managed cloud solution we always knew that the need for servers would never quite become the fluffy evaporated nirvana that some of our colleagues in Marketing (hi guys!) would have us believe.
We were there when the first dabbling’s of Parallels Virtuozzo and of course, Xen hit the market and small hosters everywhere went nuts for the scale and density of ‘Para-virtualisation.’ We were there too when the Enterprise came along and demanded more security, more separation and more control. VMWare came in pretty handy for that with what became “Full Virtualisation". Yet, time and time again the conversation moves from Virtualisation back to the real world of servers.
“But what about Public Cloud!?” I can hear you exclaim. You would be right; they do a wonderful job of allowing us to consume vast quantities of compute resource without ever worrying about who sits on the same hardware as us. However, we just need to look at Amazon Web Services for our answer. Nearly every single service within their portfolio has that altogether more expensive option of “Dedicated Hosts.”
Whilst Virtualisation and Public Cloud solutions have come a very long way in optimising resource utilisation in shared environments there will always be an overhead. No matter how small that overhead is, there are a range of applications and use cases where the need to go faster is so great that the few milliseconds of lag whilst the SSD plays catch-up after a particularly bruising encounter with your neighbour’s new application which just went viral is just too much of a risk.
Risk and control
Every business reaches a moment where they have to take a step back and evaluate the risk of running their applications on the same web hosting they purchased for £9.99 a month in the hazy start-up days. Similarly, the enterprise business will always reach a moment where they have to make that commitment to truly owning their own destiny. Whether that’s with a Dedicated Host via AWS or their own Private Cloud for those requirements which are still too risky to hold in a location they can never physically touch and feel.
Thankfully, most of the mega-giants of the software world are clicking into the world of “per core” licencing – but there are still a few nasties out there that are very much focused on the physical CPU count. This can be a challenge as most of their models perceive one Virtual CPU as one Physical CPU. Or worse, they might not even recognise your virtualisation solution at all! We’re looking at you, Oracle!
So with all of that said, we understand that in Business there is still a very real need for physical servers, and we wanted to make sure we were able to deliver on that requirement as quickly as possible. We looked at our CloudSure platform, where we can spin up new Virtual Machines in minutes and asked the question – why can’t we do this on tin? What’s really stopping us? The answer was rather a lot!
Building for speed – bare metal automation
We’ve built a lot of servers over the years. We’ve been through the cycle of building from CD or USB and painstakingly trying to get drivers to work across a myriad of different hardware. We’ve played around with Linux applications like Cobbler and of course Windows Deployment Services. There are a lot of really great tools out there that make server installation faster, but for us it was never quite fast enough.
To understand the issues, we have to break them down into their component parts.
To paraphrase from ‘Little Britain’ – “I want that one.” Specification drift is a major challenge and one that little to no amount of automation can truly resolve. Some people want lots of fast disks, some people want lots of slow ones. Some need heaps of memory, and others not so much. Aside from the major benefit of cost saving, it is possibly the defining benefit of Virtualisation.
We’re not just talking about Operating System Installation here. We mean every single step, from purchase through to chassis selection, powering on the device, confirming the specification of the chassis, creating the network, allocating IP addresses … the whole shooting match.
So how quickly can you install 500 physical servers with Linux, fully configured and ready to go? We didn’t think we’d get to 15 minutes either, but we did!
Much of this has been overcome and achieved by the use of two principle elements.
The first is our Software Defined Network deployed and used between our London and Maidenhead data centres. With the Cisco Nexus switching layer, and Cisco’s Dynamic Fabric Automation we’ve been able to break down the traditional barrier of building large scale complex computer networks – with customers able to buy as few or as many servers on their initial engagement with us, and never ever have to worry about how they can make future servers talk to one another.
The second, is our people. We are blessed with a talented array of developers, infrastructure engineers and data centre staff who have really brought this idea to life. From battling with the ever growing list of hardware combinations and components, to implementing safeguards and security checks to ensure customers services are not affected – our people have made the difference!
Regardless of how the Cloud develops in the coming years, we know we have a solid foundation with our Bare Metal Automation to allow our customers to grow smoothly and uninterrupted regardless of what road they choose to take.
By Johnathan Williamson, Group Technical Operations Manager, iomart
Follow Johnathan on Twitter @suitedupgeek
iomart has more than a decade of experience helping businesses maximise the benefits of the cloud.