Data Centers

Rackspace's OnMetal service eliminates "noisy-neighbor" problems

Has VM server technology finally outlived its usefulness? Rackspace and some major clients seem to think so.

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Image: Rackspace

Last year, Dell and HP lost a key customer — Rackspace. Up until then, the two companies supplied Rackspace with upwards of 90,000 servers. Rackspace, like Facebook, now designs its own servers using guidelines from the Open Compute Project. Quanta Computer builds the custom servers for Rackspace.

This past week, Taylor Rhodes, President of Rackspace, announced in this video what was in store for these servers — a new Rackspace offering called OnMetal. Put simply, Rackspace, besides providing customers multi-tenant virtual machine (VM) servers, will now rent single-tenant dedicated servers.

Why single-tenant servers?

Rhodes listed a whole slew of reasons why multi-tenant VM servers were not meeting customer needs, calling the issues "noisy-neighbor" problems. The predicament was first noticed when one tenant on a VM server co-opted most of the server's resources. Doing so caused variability in how the other VMs behaved and performed, even to the point where availability was not assured.

Rhodes stated that clients, not seeing any other choice, attempted to thwart these issues by over-provisioning their server requirements, aggravating the situation even more. Something else often overlooked is that each VM instance adds what Rhodes considers "virtualization tax." The performance hit each additional VM instance places on the physical server.

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Image: Rackspace

One solution that eliminates the noisy-neighbor problem is to place critical services on dedicated servers in colocation centers. However, companies renting dedicated hardware lose a lot in the process. According to Rhodes, "In a colocation center, you lose the simplicity and elasticity a multi-tenant cloud gives you."

Elasticity refers to "how well the datacenter can satisfy the growth of the input VMs resource demands under both the limitations of physical machine capacities." So there's the trade-off: performance variability vs. ease and quickness of provisioning.

With Rackspace's new service, there's no trade-off

Rackspace took the best parts of the multi-tenant cloud and colocation services and discarded the parts that weren't working. To do that, Rackspace took its OnMetal server design, enlisted OpenStack cloud software, (specifically Ironic, a provisioning system built for bare-metal servers), and created a service that lets providers work with non-VM servers (OnMetal) in the same manner and flexibility VM servers are provisioned.

Rhodes stated OnMetal servers:

  • Are 100% solid-state, no heat (other than the Central Processing Unit), and no vibration as fans are outside the server housing;
  • Can be spun up in minutes, just like VMs;
  • Are Application Program Interface (API) driven and accessible just like VMs;
  • Do not use a Hypervisor; and
  • Are hardware specialized for database services, low-latency caching, or web-request handling.

To give an example of the hardware specialization, a database-focused OnMetal server would have the following specs:

  • Flash storage: 3.2 Terabytes
  • RAM: 128 Gigabytes
  • IOPS: Greater than 200,000

The Rackspace website offers the following additional details for the OnMetal service:

  • Fast provisioning: OnMetal Servers can be provisioned in less than five minutes.
  • Integrated administration: Use the same control panel and API interfaces for both OnMetal servers and virtual-cloud servers.
  • Consistent performance: Single-tenant architecture eliminates "noisy neighbors," and no performance hits to the virtualization layer.
  • Open-source standards: Avoid being locked into a proprietary solution, as hardware and software are both open source.
  • High-performance networking: Each cabinet includes two 10Gb/s network connections in a high availability Multi-Chassis Link Aggregation with minimal over-subscription to help increase throughput and performance for your applications.

Satisfied clients

During the announcement, Rhodes introduced several Rackspace clients that are onboard with the OnMetal approach. Zach Rosen, CEO and cofounder of Pantheon Systems, said, "We've all been trained to think of the cloud as generic virtual machines on demand. VMs have had their decade. The future 'Cloud' will be built with containers deployed across bare-metal servers provisioned via API. We believe Rackspace's OnMetal service is the future of Infrastructure as a Service."

OnMetal is available now through an early availability program, and will be in general availability by late July 2014. To learn more and to sign up for a test drive, head over to this page at Rackspace.

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