What is bare metal hosting?

Why it makes sense in the age of the cloud

What is bare metal hosting?
(Image: © Panumas Nikhomkhai / Pexels)

There’s no shortage of options when you’re out looking for a dedicated server hosting (opens in new tab) for your website. While you can get online with virtually any of the available options, depending on the kind of website you plan to host, the choice of the server can have a huge impact on your online presence. 

Arguably the oldest hosting option, that has managed to survive the onslaught of the virtual machine (opens in new tab) options, is bare metal hosting. In simple words, a bare metal server is exactly what it sounds like: a physical computer that is earmarked for your exclusive use.

How is bare metal different?

Drill deep down on any kind of environment, including virtualized ones, and you’ll run into physical hardware. In that aspect even cloud computing (opens in new tab) runs on physical hardware. 

The term bare metal however is used specifically for dedicated physical servers that are offered as is, free of any form of virtualization. Bare metal servers are designed specifically to run dedicated services. In fact, you can directly host a website on your bare metal server for maximum performance, as opposed to it being hosted on abstracted hardware in a virtualized environment. 

One of the most distinguishable features of bare metal servers is that they are single tenant servers. In other words, unlike other forms of web hosting (opens in new tab), bare metal servers aren’t shared between clients. So while you can use your bare metal server to execute any number of tasks they’ll remain entirely dedicated to you. 

Advantages of bare metal hosting

In a snap, hosting on bare metal eradicates all the shortcomings that are usually associated with any form of shared hosting (opens in new tab) or virtual private server (opens in new tab) hosting. Issues such as performance degradation don’t exist since your bare metal servers are single tenant environments that you don’t need to share with anyone else. There are no pesky neighbors that can affect your performance or have a bearing on your website’s reputation, as it is with shared hosting. This leads to more predictable performance.

Talking about performance, bare metal servers offer much better performance than the other hosting options. One of the reasons for this is that many of reputable bare metal server vendors carefully choose the individual components inside the server and tune them to extract the best performance. 

Furthermore, many vendors will also optimize the server for your unique workloads. The most popular ones will even enable you to choose the components that best meet your requirements. That includes selecting a specific CPU model and clock-speed, Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) high-speed storage devices, arranged in your choice of RAID level and more.

Also, unlike with cloud hosting (opens in new tab) and shared hosting solutions, you’ll have direct root-level access to your bare metal server. Again you’ll have a host of remote desktop access solutions including VPN (opens in new tab) and SSH to connect to the bare metal host via your preferred mechanism. 

Who hosts on bare metal?

As you can imagine, all those benefits come at a cost. No wonder then that bare metal servers are one of the most expensive server hosting options. 

It is because of this very factor that bare metal servers are used by businesses whose hosting needs require the performance advantages they offer. While you don’t need bare metal hosts for running a personal blog, there are several industries that have the need for the power, performance, and security offered by these single-tenant servers. In fact, thanks to its performance tuning characteristics, a bare metal server is the perfect hosting environment for websites that need to process large volumes of data. 

Industries that make up most of the usual clientele for bare metal servers include banking and financial services, and the Government. In the age of big data, bare metal servers are also a must-have option for data rich environments, such as ecommerce (opens in new tab) websites. 

Managing bare metal

The complexity (and cost) of managing a bare metal server depends on where the servers are hosted. You can run bare metal servers in-house, or from a colocation (opens in new tab) data center, or even rent them on a time-based subscription plan from a managed hosting (opens in new tab) provider.

Running bare metal servers in-house is perhaps the cheapest in terms of direct cost. However, managing an on-prem server is an involved process and will cost you in terms of the time, effort and substantial manpower required. 

To manage a on-prem bare metal server, you’ll have to take charge of keeping it secure. This involves making sure it is fully patched and updated, has a properly configured firewall (opens in new tab), as well as a well-defined security policy and regular password rotations. The server will also need to be actively monitored and you should also have a backup and recovery (opens in new tab) strategy should things go south. 

You can remove many of these complexities and delegate them to professionals by choosing to host your bare metal in a colocation facility or using a managed provider. Both these options offer to take away many of the overhead tasks involved in running a bare metal server and instead enable you to focus on your business and your website.

Is bare metal right for me?

Sure, bare metal servers offer unparalleled performance, but they are not the right option for all types of hosting requirements. 

Choosing between a bare metal server or a virtual server boils down to your needs and budget. Both solutions have their advantages and disadvantages, either in associated costs or features. 

Essentially though, if you want unfettered access, highly-scalable, tuned hardware, and optimized performance, then there’s no better option than hosting on bare metal. 

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.