Exploring Deployment Options: Hardware vs Bare Metal vs Virtualization vs Containerization

Today, the way telcos deploy and manage software networking services has evolved significantly. Four prominent methods stand out: hardware appliance, bare metal installation, virtualization and containerization.

Each approach offers unique benefits and trade-offs, catering to different use cases and preferences. Let's delve into the distinctions between them to understand which might be the best fit for your specific requirements.

Hardware appliance

A hardware appliance is a specialized device designed for performing specific tasks or functions within a computing environment. Unlike virtualization, which abstracts hardware resources for multiple virtual machines (VMs), and bare metal installations, which involve deploying an operating system directly onto physical hardware, hardware appliances offer a dedicated and purpose-built solution for targeted workloads. This traditional, legacy approach to building network infrastructure predates the introduction of virtualization and containerization.

  • Purpose-built design leads to performance: hardware appliances are engineered with optimized hardware components tailored to the specific requirements of the intended workload, ensuring high performance and reliability.
  • Ease of deployment: hardware appliances offer turnkey deployment, requiring minimal setup and configuration effort. Users can simply connect the appliance to power and network infrastructure to begin operations.

  • Limited Scalability: Hardware appliances cannot be scaled rather than buying a new box.
  • Limited Automation: It is hard, or nearly impossible to program hardware boxes as it does not support programming languages
  • Higher Upfront Costs: Hardware appliances typically involve higher initial expenses since they require the purchase of dedicated hardware devices. Additionally, such appliances are usually underutilized, because service providers overprovision the capacity of such hardware to meet the 3-5 years demand.
  • End-of-Life Management: Hardware appliances face end-of-life (EOL) challenges as they reach the end of their operational lifespan.
  • Obsolete Technology: Over time, hardware appliances may become obsolete due to advancements in technology or changes in business requirements. Upgrading or replacing outdated appliances can be costly and disruptive, requiring careful planning and investment.

Bare metal installation

Bare metal installation involves deploying an operating system directly onto physical hardware without any intermediary layers. In this approach, the operating system interacts directly with the underlying hardware, utilizing its resources exclusively for running applications and services.

Bare metal installations allocate all hardware resources (CPU, memory, storage, network interfaces, etc.) to the operating system and its applications. This dedicated allocation ensures that applications have access to the full capacity of the hardware.

  • Performance: With no virtualization overhead, applications running on bare metal often exhibit high performance.
  • Full Hardware Access: Bare metal installations provide direct access to hardware resources, making it possible to perform optimized configurations for specific workloads.
  • Predictability: Since there are no hypervisors or additional layers, bare metal setups offer predictable resource allocation and consistent performance.

  • Not an Easy Deployment: unlike hardware appliances, bare metal installations require software setup and configuration. Compared to a virtual machine installation, it’s also much harder: VMs come preconfigured with operating system packages, while bare metal deployment requires manual setup and configuration of these packages. This process can be time-consuming and prone to errors. Additionally, managing and updating individual packages can be challenging, as a single package update could potentially disrupt the entire system.
  • Scalability: Scaling infrastructure with bare metal can be cumbersome as it requires provisioning and configuring physical servers.
  • Resource Utilization: Bare metal setups often underutilize hardware resources, as the lack of scalability makes service providers overprovision the capacity of such servers to meet the future demands.
  • Flexibility: Adaptability and agility are limited as adding or modifying resources necessitates physical intervention.


Virtualization involves creating virtual instances of hardware components, enabling multiple virtual machines (VMs) to run on a single physical server.

While this approach offers flexibility and resource optimization, it may not always be suitable for high-load networking applications handling extensive traffic, often exceeding hundreds of gigabits. In such instances, the utilization of a dedicated server becomes imperative.

Hence, let's delve into the comparison between deploying a VM on a dedicated server and consolidating multiple VMs onto a single server to discern their respective advantages and implications.
Option 1: Single VM on a Dedicated Server
Deploying a VM on a dedicated server involves installing a single VM on an independent physical server, granting it exclusive access to the server's resources.

  • Performance: with the use of advanced technologies like PCI passthrough, SR-IOV, CPU isolation / pinning etc. VM on a dedicated server offers unparalleled performance.
  • Ease of deployment: all components come within a virtual machine, which makes the installation easier and quicker.
  • Scalability up and down: VMs can seamlessly migrate to other servers if the current server lacks the necessary resources, without incurring additional costs. At the same time, it can easily transition to a setup with multiple VMs if server resources become available.
  • License Extension: it’s possible to gradually increase VM capacity on the same server, reducing costs associated with software licensing.

  • Resource Utilization: Dedicated servers may underutilize resources, leading to inefficiencies and increased infrastructure costs.
  • Scalability: Although software licenses can scale gradually in line with business needs, scaling server’s resources involves provisioning additional hardware, limiting agility in response to changing workload demands.
Option 2: Multiple VMs on a server
A situation where multiple VMs are sharing one server’s resources is also called Server consolidation. It involves running multiple VMs on a single physical server, leveraging virtualization technology to optimize resource utilization.

  • Resource Consolidation: Virtualization optimizes hardware utilization by running multiple VMs on a single physical server, reducing hardware costs and space requirements.
  • Flexibility: Virtualization offers greater flexibility than bare metal, allowing for easier migration, cloning, and snapshotting of VMs.
  • Scalability: It is possible to free up resources by removing other VMs, thereby allocating the server to the most resource-intensive one, as well as to redistribute server resources among different virtual machines to scale the capacity of a particular one.

  • Complexity: Managing virtualized environments can be complex, requiring expertise in hypervisor configuration, resource allocation, and VM orchestration.
  • Limited performance: this approach often involves using virtual interfaces instead of physical ones, which makes it impossible using advanced technologies like PCI passthrough, CPU isolation, CPU pinning, etc. This results in limited performance of the VMs.


Containerization involves encapsulating an application and its dependencies into a lightweight, portable container that can run consistently across various environments. Each container encapsulates an application along with its runtime, libraries, and other dependencies, enabling consistent operation across diverse computing environments, from development to production.

Please note: This is very rarely used by service providers because performance is the issue with containers. It is primarily suitable for test environments, and very small deployments, like office routers, rather than meeting carrier-grade level requirements.

  • Resource Efficiency: Containers share the host OS kernel, resulting in minimal overhead and efficient resource utilization.
  • Portability: Containers are highly portable, allowing applications to run consistently across different environments, from development to production.
  • Scalability: Containerized applications can be easily scaled up or down by adding or removing container instances, enabling rapid deployment and elasticity.

  • Performance: All resources, including the operating system kernel, are shared, which is not suitable for high-load applications at all.
  • Security Concerns: While containerization offers isolation, vulnerabilities in the host kernel or container runtime can pose security risks.
  • Orchestration Complexity: Managing containerized applications at scale requires robust orchestration tools like Kubernetes, which can introduce complexity.
  • State Management: Containers are ephemeral by nature, making stateful application management and persistent storage a challenge.

Now, what is the best option for a resource-intense application
for telcos like CGNAT?

For resource-intensive applications like CGNAT (Carrier-Grade Network Address Translation), the optimal choice typically boils down to three main options: hardware appliances, VMs on dedicated servers, and VMs that share a server with other applications.

The exclusion of two other options, namely containers and bare metal installations, is justified by their respective limitations in this context. Containers are unsuitable for telcos due to performance constraints; resource-intensive applications simply cannot function efficiently within container environments. Containers may be effective in telcos’ test environments or for Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) NAT installations, but they are not suitable for processing large amounts of traffic.

As for bare metal installations, while they offer all the benefits of VMs on dedicated servers, VM deployments are considered a more modern and flexible solution. Therefore, bare metal installations are very rarely a choice nowadays, and therefore were excluded from consideration in favor of VM options.

With the three remaining options—hardware appliances, VMs on dedicated servers, and VMs sharing a server with other applications—let’s proceed to compare their characteristics and suitability for telcos’ resource-intensive applications using Carrier-Grade NAT deployment as an example.
The final choice depends primarily on performance and scalability requirements, as well as budget constraints:

  1. If the traffic volume is large or if you anticipate growth in the next few years, then a dedicated server is the appropriate choice. It can deliver the necessary performance and scalability for future expansion by extending a software license, or by redeploying VMs to other servers without incurring additional costs.
  2. If the traffic volume is large but not expected to grow significantly, a hardware appliance may be suitable. Although it is easy to deploy, it is costly. If cost is not a concern, this option can be viable.
  3. If the traffic volume is small, deploying a VM on a small dedicated server or as a VM on a shared server, sharing compute resources with other networking applications, can be considered.
We hope you found this article useful. If you have any questions about this topic, or NFWare CGNAT solution and its deployment, please do not hesitate to contact us at contact@nfware.com
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