VMware and SoftLayer teleport workloads across oceans

Why not follow the moon and send VMs to where the electricity and compute is cheap

The Register's virtualisation desk has sometimes heard talk of a concept called “follow-the-moon” computing that aims to reduce the cost of running apps by placing them in spots where electricity is cheap.

Follow-the-moon assumes that once the sun sets and people go to sleep prudent cloud users will shut down some of their rented servers. At about the same time, off-peak power prices kick in because demand falls.

A public cloud bit barn on the other side of the planet from you could therefore have tasty spot pricing for compute and power in its wee hours, which are peak times in plenty of other places.

Your correspondent has heard it suggested that follow-the-moon could spark interesting new businesses. New Zealand's South Island, for example, is blessed with low ambient temperatures and lots of hydro power. A bit barn in such a location could have cost advantages – if you can get workloads there.

New Zealand's poorly-served by submarine cables, which highlights the problem of latency. That's in the too-hard basket for a while.

Another problem for follow-the-moon is is how to get your workloads to where power and compute are cheap. And it's that problem that VMware and SoftLayer address in the video below. The secret sauce here is a combination of NSX and vMotion. The latter is VMware's virtual machine teleportation tech, which moves workloads from one machine, or one bit barn, to another.

Virtzilla's gradually extended the range of vMotion over the years. It was first billed as a way to move workloads to disaster recovery sites, then as a way to access cross-town bit barns and lately as having “continental” range. In the video below, VMware demonstrates it operating between SoftLayer bit barns in Sydney, Dallas and Amsterdam.

VM teleportation is far from instant – the video says it takes two minutes to get up and running in a new location. That's still a pretty handy feat.

There's two important things under the hood. One is SoftLayer's private network. The Register's virtualisation desk suspects two-minute vMotions would not be possible on a purely public network. The other is NSX, which constructs a single, logical, virtual switch among the three data centres so that once the VM lands it's instantly aware of its surrounds and resources.

Youtube Video

Two-minute workload teleportation won't do for burst capacity when you really need it, but should be a tolerable transition time if you plan for it.

The exotic rig cooked up for the demo in the video shows follow-the-moon computing isn't ready for the mainstream, but surely shows the concept has legs. And also shows why VMware stopped building its own public cloud: the scale of investment required to build globe-spanning networks and bit barns is surely best left to the likes of IBM. VMware can skim the cream with NSX to make that physical infrastructure behave. ®

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