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AWS Bare-Metal EC2 Servers Will Help Some Customers Accelerate Solutions Built On Amazon, Others Achieve Greater Cloud Interoperability

AWS never offered direct access to hardware until it struck its deal with VMware. Now other customers have won access to those non-virtualized environments.

For the first time in its 13-year history, Amazon Web Services has introduced an offering that allows customers to provision bare-metal servers through its cloud, a move that should help some large technology partners better optimize their offerings on the platform, and ease cloud interoperability.

Peter Desantis, vice president of Amazon's global infrastructure, first introduced the EC2 bare-metal option in a late-night keynote Tuesday at the re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, telling attendees customers have been asking for the capability to access AWS hardware to best optimize their solutions.

While there have long been requests for such an offering, AWS always resisted. But the unique partnership with VMware struck last year broke the dam—the first time the cloud leader directly exposed its hardware to a partner or customer.

[Related: Amazon Web Services CEO Jassy: The Most Committed Partners Will Have The Biggest Cloud Opportunities]

Amazon veered away from its longstanding position by making available a single-tenant environment for the private cloud vendor to build VMware Cloud on AWS jointly—and run its ESX hypervisor without reducing performance by nesting in other virtual machines.

Since then, other vendors have expressed interest to Amazon indirectly accessing its hardware to maximize the capabilities of the solutions they build on top of the cloud.

"These new bare-metal instances give customers and partners the best of both worlds," Desantis, the original creator of Amazon EC2 virtual machines, said. "You get direct access to underlying hardware with the elasticity, security and scalability of the AWS cloud."

That is a big deal to many customers, he said.

It will benefit those with workloads "that need a specific hypervisor or access to specific hardware features, and workloads with restrictive, customer-hostile licensing," Desantis said. They "can take full advantage of the benefits of the AWS cloud. And once these workloads are in AWS they can take full advantage of other AWS services, including virtual private cloud, Elastic Block Store, Elastic Load Balancing."

The new instance, called i3.metal, now available in public preview, will be the first in a series of EC2 bare-metal configurations that allow customers direct access to processors and hardware.

Several partners and customers are already experimenting with porting workloads to bare-metal on AWS, Desantis said.

The new instance is powered by two Intel Xeon E5-2686 v4 processors, with a total of 36 hyperthreaded cores, 512 GiB of memory, 15.2 terabytes of local, SSD-based NVMe storage, and a 25 Gbps of ENA-based enhanced networking.


Cloudistics, developer of a platform for rapidly deploying on-premises clouds, was waiting for such an option before extending its technology to public providers.

Jai Menon, chief scientist of the Reston, Va.-based company, said bare-metal gives his company, which delivers software-defined, highly composable environments, a big advantage.

"This will enable us to do hybrid cloud, where we can have customers run some of their workloads on-prem and the more bursty workloads can be run on AWS, and we can manage all that from the single Cloudistics portal," Menon told CRN.

Oddly enough, the cloud industry, which was born from the advent of virtualization technology, is moving in that direction. IBM supports bare-metal, and Oracle has also looked to those machines as a differentiator for its public cloud infrastructure.

"We hope others like Microsoft follow," Menon said. "This will enable more seamless migration of workloads between clouds in the future."

With clouds running different hypervisors, it is often hard to move workloads between Microsoft Azure and AWS without translating VM images, he said.

"As more and more clouds provide bare-metal, a common layer across all clouds permitting seamless migration will be possible. This will reduce lock-in to any one cloud," he said.

"There are also workloads that will not run or cannot be licensed for virtualized environments – those can run in the bare-metal cloud now. So more hybrid, more multi-cloud, less lock-in, more storage innovation are some of the possible impacts," Menon told CRN.

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