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Achieving Performant Single-Tenant Cloud Isolation with IBM Cloud Bare Metal Servers, Ubuntu Core, Snaps, and AMD Pensando Elba Data Processing Unit

Discover how IBM Cloud’s bare metal servers offer highly confined and high-performing single-tenant cloud isolation through the use of Ubuntu Core and Snaps, supported by the AMD Pensando Elba DPU (Data Processing Unit). This setup enables the creation of secure and efficient environments for each tenant. Its design ensures the total separation of their servers from the cloud underlay. The architecture delivers consistent performance and enables non intrusive control from the cloud provider. Learn how this innovative solution can benefit your business and enhance your cloud infrastructure.

Introduction

Public cloud bare-metal servers offer dedicated physical resources, but can present isolation and performance challenges. Isolation requirements involve maintaining full control of compute capabilities by the tenant, while preserving the backend management of its infrastructure by the cloud provider and preventing unauthorised access. Performance requirements entail providing consistent performance even under heavy workloads. Cloud providers face challenges in ensuring physical and logical isolation, resource allocation, monitoring, management, scalability, and security. To address these complex requirements, providers must invest in advanced technologies and implement best practices for resource allocation, monitoring, and management. They also need to regularly review and update infrastructure to meet tenant needs.

In the following discussion, we will explore how IBM Cloud is addressing these challenges by harnessing the distinctive capabilities of Ubuntu Core and Snaps deployed on the AMD Pensando Elba infrastructure accelerators.

IBM Cloud Bare Metal Servers for VPC

IBM has always been dedicated to keeping clients essential data secure through a strong focus on resilience, performance, and compliance. IBM Cloud executes that focus within highly regulated industries such as finance and insurance organisations. Given IBM Cloud’s long-standing commitment to data security, it is unsurprising and essential that Bare Metal Servers for VPC (VPC BM) implements the most rigorous security guarantees to meet customers expectations.

Bare metal servers, which are physical servers dedicated to a single tenant, offer benefits such as high performance and customizability, but managing them in a multi-tenant environment can be complex. A key requirement is ensuring isolation between the tenant and the cloud backend, both to maintain security and to prevent performance issues caused by noisy neighbours.

VPC BM allows customers to select a preset server profile that best matches their workloads to help accelerate the deployment of compute resources. Customers can achieve maximum performance without oversubscription deployed in 10 minutes 

VPC BM  is powered with the latest technology. They are built for cloud-enterprise applications, including VMware and SAP, and can also support HPC and IOT workloads. They come with enhanced high-performance networking at 100 Gbps as well as advanced security features. 

A network orchestration layer handles the networking for all bare metal servers that are within an IBM Cloud VPC across regions and zones. This allows for management and creation of multiple, virtual private clouds in multi zone regions and also improves security, reduces latency, and increases high availability.

“I selected IBM Cloud VPC because of 5 points that I thought and was proven correct based on my experience using the service. First is security. Secondly is agility. The third is isolation. Fourth is the high performance. Fifth, and last, is the scalability.”

Ivo Draginov CEO BatchService

AMD Pensando DSC2-200 “Elba”

In use with some of the largest cloud providers and Hyperscalers on the planet, the AMD Pensando DSC2-200 has proven itself as the platform of choice for cloud providers seeking to optimise performance, increase scale and introduce new infrastructure services at the speed of software. The DSC2-200 is full-height, half-length PCIe card powered by AMD Pensando 2nd generation DPU “Elba”. The DSC2-200 is the ideal platform for cloud providers to implement multi-tenant SDN, stateful security, storage, encryption and telemetry at line rate. The platform’s scale architecture allows cloud provider to offer multiple services on the same DPU card.

Developers can create customised data plane services that target 400G throughput, microsecond-level latencies, and scale to tens of millions of flows. The heart of the AMD Pensando platform is a fully programmable P4 data processing unit (DPU). High-level programming languages (P4, C) enable rapid development and deployment of new features and services.

The innovative design of AMD Pensando DPU provides secure air-gap between tenant’s compute instances and cloud infrastructure as well as secure isolation between tenants. This separation enables cloud operators to manage their infrastructure functions efficiently and independently of their tenant’s workloads while freeing up the valuable compute resources from the infrastructure tasks and fully dedicating them to revenue generating business applications. The exceptional throughput and performance of the Elba DSC2-200, along with its strong alignment with IBM’s security expectations, made it a top choice for inclusion in IBM Cloud’s bare metal servers for VPC. This combination of features enables IBM Cloud to provide highly secure and powerful environments for its customers.

Achieving IBM Cloud’s target outcomes with Ubuntu Core and Snaps

The first goal was to implement a secure and reliable operating system that IBM Cloud development teams could use to launch their management interface and functionality on the AMD Pensando DPU cards. Initially IBM Cloud selected Ubuntu Server as the operating system. They were familiar with it and could easily develop on top of it using the familiar Linux toolset and API.

To develop software running on the AMD Pensando DPU cards, the development kit provides a complete container-based development environment. It allows for the development of data plane, management plane, and control plane functions. To perform correctly, these containers must be allowed direct communication with the card hardware components with fine-grained isolation. Using traditional container runtimes such as Docker and Kubernetes alone cannot meet the unique requirements of this solution. Fortunately, Snap packages provide this access through secure and controlled interfaces to the operating system.

Using Snap packages, IBM Cloud developers were able to implement all the functionalities they needed in record time. This positive experience made them turn their attention to Ubuntu Core, the version of Ubuntu specifically designed for embedded systems such as AMD Pensando DPU cards. It is entirely made up of Snap packages, creating a confined, immutable and transaction-based system. Communication among containers and between containers and the operating system is locked down under full control. In addition, Ubuntu Core provides full disk encryption and secure boot, achieving additional mandatory security compliance objectives.

IBM Cloud successfully converted their bespoke AMD Pensando system image from Ubuntu Server to Ubuntu Core and, after positive results in the pre-production tests, proceeded to deploy it in production to support Bare Metal Servers on VPC.

Conclusion

In summary, Canonical’s Ubuntu Core and IBM Cloud’s components, when packaged as Snaps, provide a unique solution that effectively addresses the challenges faced by the company. This innovative approach has enabled IBM Cloud to enhance its offerings and deliver improved performance, security, and tenant isolation. The development of the solution completed in under a year and has been successfully operating in production since then. The implementation has been a resounding success. Ultimately addressing these challenges provided IBM Cloud with several advantages, including differentiation, cost savings, and improved efficiency.

The collaboration between IBM Cloud, Canonical, and AMD Pensando remains ongoing, with plans to expand the use of Ubuntu Core and Snaps to support other non-bare metal offerings, including Virtual Server for VPC. A key medium-term goal is to achieve FedRAMP compliance, which involves upgrading to Ubuntu Core 22 and ensuring FIPS compliance at the kernel and filesystem levels. This ongoing partnership and development aim to enhance the security, performance, and functionality of IBM Cloud’s solutions.

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