When you launch a server on our CloudNX platform, you have two options: a Bare Metal Server or a Cloud Server. While there are fundamental similarities, – they’re both servers, after all – there are also some major differences setting them apart.

So what are the key features of Bare Metal servers and Cloud servers respectively? And how can you choose the right CloudNX server for the needs of your project? In this comparison of bare metal servers and cloud servers, you’ll get an overview of both of these web hosting technologies, so that you can make an informed choice between the two.

What is a Bare Metal server?

While the name gives it away somewhat, a Bare Metal server (also known as a dedicated server or bare metal machine), is a physical computer server that is assigned to a single user or business. Unlike a public cloud that shares hardware resources with other virtual machines, Bare Metal servers offer exclusive access to the underlying configured hardware.

By choosing a Bare Metal server, you essentially rent out an entire physical server, including its processing power, memory, storage, and network connectivity. This server is not partitioned or shared among multiple users or virtual machines, ensuring that all resources are dedicated solely to your specific needs. Some of the main uses for bare metal servers include processing large volumes of data, running online stores and running web development environments.

What is a Cloud server?

You may have heard of the Cloud, but what is a Cloud server? Cloud servers are a type of virtual server that sit within a cloud computing environment. They can be private or public clouds, with the latter typically being ran by a third party provider on a subscription basis. In contrast to Bare Metal, a Cloud server doesn’t rely on dedicated hardware, but rather in virtualised servers housed within data centres.

The main difference between Bare Metal and Cloud servers

Unlike a bare metal server, which has a set configuration of CPU, RAM and storage, a Cloud server draws its own dedicated resources from a shared pool. For this reason, the resources of a Cloud server can be adjusted without needing to power down the hardware and perform physical upgrades, which would be needed on a traditional server.

Of course, a cloud server needs underlying hardware in order to run, but it’s logically separate from everything else on the same physical server. In other words, anything that happens on one Cloud server should have zero impact on other VMs that share the hardware.

This is the fundamental difference between physical and virtual machines. But what does it actually mean in practice? Ultimately, the bare metal vs cloud server question can be boiled down to price–performance vs flexibility.

Bare metal servers vs cloud servers

Bearing in mind the main differences between bare metal servers and cloud servers, you’ll be able to make the right choice for your project. But remember that it’s not a binary decision – it’s possible to create your ideal hosting setup by combining Bare Metal and Cloud server technologies.

You can easily run bare metal servers alongside multiple VMs on our CloudNX platform, fully integrated on a hybrid cloud setup. With bare metal servers interacting with cloud servers on the same network, you can optimise performance and distribute traffic with load balancers, building a highly customised hosting environment.

This opens up a whole new world of hybrid possibilities, especially in scenarios that demand the performance of dedicated hardware and the scalability of virtual machines.

For example, intensive ecommerce. Yes, the performance of an online shop can be scaled up and down with VMs, but what about when you need a major resource upgrade for a sustained period, such as a sale? A bare metal server can provide the extra capacity you need at the busiest times of year, or handle the back-end database processing, fully integrated with load-balanced VMs.

And while, as mentioned above, cloud servers are great for testing purposes, bare metal servers can easily be added to the same infrastructure as it transitions from testing to production. In a live environment with heavy processing demands, running physical hardware and virtual servers on a single platform is highly advantageous.

Benefits of Bare Metal servers

There are many benefits to choosing a bare metal server, as you're combining the best elements of both dedicated and cloud server hosting, with maximum control.

1. Performance

If performance is your top priority, you get more bang for your buck with a bare metal server. Bare metal servers can offer better performance for demanding applications and heavy workloads such as big data processing – where physical machines will generally be more cost-effective than cloud servers.

2. Flexibility

It’s also important to note that although bare metal servers are not themselves virtualised, they still offer the flexibility of a cloud platform. Bare metal server billing is based on per-hour usage, as opposed to the monthly or yearly terms associated with dedicated server hosting. Bare metal servers can also be spun up in a few minutes and paused at any time, with no upfront costs or contract periods.

3. Cost

The key strength and the biggest benefit to bare metal servers is the great price–performance combined with enhanced flexibility. So for larger workloads, even if they’re only temporary, a bare metal server is ideal.

4. Reliability

You won’t run the risk of “noisy neighbours” with a bare metal server, as they aren’t shared with other users or virtual machines. Plus, it means you have full control over its resource allocation, which can allow you to minimise the risk of performance disruptions and bottlenecks.

5. Customisation

With a bare metal server, you typically have full control over your configuration, from hardware to OS. This allows for a tailored solution to your needs, and the flexibility to customise the kernel for optimal performance – something that can be difficult to replicate on a Cloud server.

The disadvantages of using a bare metal server

Bare metal servers have many advantages as we can see, but like with any server you chose, there will be some drawbacks. Here are the main disadvantages of a bare metal server.

1. Can be costly

The hardware required to run your bare metal server can be quite high, particularly if you need a lot of resources. They’re typically more expensive than virtual or cloud servers, so you’ll need to keep this in mind if you think the pros outweigh the cons.

2. Poor scalability

Ultimately though, bare metal servers prioritise processing power over scalability. Because it has a set hardware configuration, a bare metal server can’t provide the granular scalability of cloud servers. Plus, if you plan on migrating a bare metal server to another (or even onto a virtual server), you’ll experience a period of downtime before the migration is complete. While this may seem fine at first glance, you’ll need to take this into account, particularly if you run a fast-paced business or service.

3. Configuration knowledge is required

You’ll need to know every aspect of your bare metal server before you configure one, right down to the data, resources and management. While some providers can take some of the work on for you, a fully customisable server with full root access will usually require specialist knowledge to handle a bare metal server.

4. Time-consuming to set-up

Typically, you’ll have complete control over your bare metal server. But because of this, you’ll have to provision each aspect of it, meaning more time to get everything set up how you want. This can take more time compared to a cloud server or VPS (though the former depends on the type of cloud server you choose).

Benefits of Cloud servers

Even if they can’t match the pound-for-pound power of bare metal servers, cloud servers are ideal for a wide range of tasks. Here are some advantages to choosing a cloud server.

1. Scalability

Cloud servers allow you to add resources to individual virtual machines (vertical scaling), or add whole new servers (horizontal scaling) at any time, in a matter of minutes. This inherent scalability makes cloud servers better suited to variable workloads, where the ability to dynamically scale performance is more important than sheer horsepower.

So for example, you might have an online shop with highly variable traffic, with regular spikes at certain times, or during seasonal events and sales. In this situation, the option to strengthen VMs or spin up new ones at a moment’s notice is highly beneficial – not least because you only pay for the exact performance level you need per-minute.

2. Server and test environments

Another great use case for cloud servers are test environments for web development. When testing, servers may only be required for a few days or hours, and even then, they probably won’t need to be super-high-performance machines. VMs are ideal when you need a quick, cost-effective cloud server environment that can be turned on, used, and switched off according to your workflow despite not providing the power that a bare metal server can, if scaled properly they can prove to be the better value option.

3. Cost effective

Cloud servers operate on a subscription-based model, meaning you only pay for the resources required. This gets rid of the need for upfront investment, and maintenance is typically taken care of by the provider (depending on which cloud solution you go for). Due to their scalability, it’s possible to reduce costs by only paying for what’s needed, rather than overprovisioning on resources.

4. Accessibility

No matter where you are in the world, a cloud server allows for cross-team collaboration and access from anywhere at any time. This can provide real-time collaboration on projects and enhanced productivity. As long as you have a working internet connection, you’re able to connect to the cloud server wherever you are.

The disadvantages of a cloud server

Whether you opt for a public or private cloud, there are disadvantages to each that you’ll need to be aware of.

1. Limited control

If you pick a public cloud, you’re likely to have little control over the infrastructure, particularly if you go for one that manages your cloud server’s infrastructure. So while you can manage your own data and make use of services, you won’t be able to update the cloud server’s firmware or any other security updates. Speaking of…

2. Data security concerns

The level of data protection varies per cloud server. While you can mitigate these as much as possible by hosting your own private cloud, you’d need to have some provision it to ensure it’s as secure as can be. If your cloud server’s security isn’t up to scratch, you can risk data loss, theft, DDoS and other nasties.

3. Vendor lock-in

Say you opt for a public cloud, multi-cloud or hybrid cloud solution for your business, you could run the risk of vendor lock-in. This is because it can make it harder to switch to other Cloud servers, particularly if they offer a feature that’s business-critical or is cheaper to provision.

4. Shared resources

When using a public cloud server, you are sharing resources with multiple other users, and this can cause some complications. If one user is running several websites, each of these taking a large part of the resources, then you might find that your sites are running slower. This can impact on the performance of sites within a cloud server – so consider this when opting for this server type.

Frequently asked questions about Bare Metal and Cloud servers

Is a Bare Metal server physical or virtual?

A bare metal server is a physical machine. As in, an actual box in a data centre that you can point at and say “that one”. This might sound obvious, but it’s an important distinction in the context of virtualisation.

Is a Cloud server physical or virtual?

Essentially, a cloud server is a virtual machine (VM). While a VM is functionally a server, it doesn’t have defined hardware. Instead, VMs use server virtualisation to share the resources of one or multiple physical machines. This way, multiple VMs can exist on the same physical server.

What is the difference between Bare Metal and IaaS?

An IaaS (infrastructure as a service) is a type of cloud service that provides you with the building blocks to create your own cloud computing environment. But if that’s the case, then how does this differ from a bare metal server?

As we previously established, a bare metal server is your own physical server that is dedicated to you or your business. You have full control over the server and can customise it to fit your needs. With an IaaS, you rent virtual computing services from a provider. These virtual servers are like computers inside a computer. You don't have to worry about the physical hardware because the provider takes care of it all. You can easily change the size and number of virtual servers as your needs change. This is good for general tasks and can save you money because you only pay for what you use.

The main difference is that with bare metal, you have complete control over the physical server, while with IaaS, you don't have to think about the physical components. The IaaS provider sets all the resources and are managed within a virtual environment. With bare metal, your business is allocated a fully dedicated server that can be configured according to your preferences. You have complete control over the entire server and can choose to install hypervisors and VMs as per your needs and requirements.

Hopefully this article has provided a useful breakdown of the differences between bare metal and cloud servers. If you'd like more details on our CloudNX platform, or you need help choosing your ideal server hosting solution, talk to our sales team today.