Equinix's Tinkerbell is a bare metal provisioning pixie

man in suit stacking blocks
Tinkerbell's Hook feature allows action images to be rebuilt, speeding up development. (Gajus/Getty Images)

Equinix announced that Tinkerbell, an open source bare metal provisioning platform that the company released last year, has accumulated new features since being placed in the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF) Sandbox program.

The microservices platform is designed to help companies transform their physical edge network hardware into programmable infrastructure, the company said. It has been generally available in open source form since May 2020, but Tinkerbell was placed in the CNCF Sandbox in November 2020. 

As a result of this move, it has picked up new features, such as Hook, an in-memory operating system that allows users to quickly rebuild action images, streamlining build times from 45 minutes to 90 seconds, while contributing to reduced memory footprint. The Hook environment was developed with developer community input and is based on popular projects including Docker’s LinuxKit.

“Our job is to give you bare metal as soon as possible,” said Mark Coleman, director of developer relations at Equinix Metal. “In technology, in general, faster is always better, and when you can do things faster it changes how people interact with the technology. This could change user behavior at the edge.”

Among other new features, Tinkerbell users now can share and reuse common workflow actions just as they would with container images on Docker Hub. The most common Tinkerbell actions “are now written in Go and delivered as binaries to make it easier to author new workflows while reducing memory footprint,” according to Equinix. This capability also can leverage Hook to speed provisioning times.

In addition, the company said Tinkerbell now supports Cluster API, a leading tool for provisioning Kubernetes clusters, and also has been tested for support of major operating systems such as VMware ESXi, RedHat Enterprise Linux, Windows Server, Flatcar Linux, Ubuntu, CentOS 8, Debian and NixOS. New configurable actions allow any operating system to be deployed on Tinkerbell.

Equinix also said the latest version of Tinkerbell release also includes an updated sandbox available through a local development environment on HashiCorp Vagrant Cloud. That sandbox lets users “get up and running with a validated version of the Tinkerbell stack, binaries for both x86 and Arm processors, and introduces a new capability allowing users to swap in and out components,” the press release said.

Equinix Metal itself already is using Tinkerbell for provisioning. The nature of developer sandbox environments like the CNCF Sandbox means Equinix may not always know which developers “might be poking around” in the software, or if they are independent firms with connections to larger companies like telcos, Coleman said.

“There are some companies we can’t mention who have been interested in Tinkerbell,” he said, adding that interest has grown among larger firms since Tinkerbell entered the CNCF Sandbox. “I do think that Tinkerbell is a natural fit for them [telecom service providers.”

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Coleman added that Equinix hopes to have Tinkerbell advance to an incubation phase at the CNCF, and that the platform will continue to gain new features. The company recently has been on a tear in the bare metal space, rapidly expanding its offerings and availability of Equinix Metal services to more markets worldwide following the acquisition of bare metal server firm Packet.