When provisioning Virtual Machines onto physical hardware, we tend to think of their processor and memory needs. But network traffic hot spots are a major bottleneck issue that is starving VMs of the network resources they need to function at their best.
To better manage network bandwidth within a cloud environment, IBM has come up with a procedure for dynamically provisioning VMs, which was recently granted a US patent. This invention allows a cloud to automatically and dynamically reassign workloads taking into account networking bandwidth requirements and availability.
Not only does this promise to boost system performance, but it could also lead to improvements in operational efficiency and total cost.
“Instead of having to add a number of servers, and networking infrastructure, you can keep basic networking infrastructure the same and the same number of physical servers, reducing the overall investment,” says Ed Suffern, who was the lead inventor on the patent.
This invention relies on the emerging field of Software Defined Networking, which is based around the idea of decoupling network hardware and software for more intelligent network management. And it largely takes advantage of what exists today, shifting resources around in order to best use that infrastructure. According to IBM, this technology can be run on various operating systems such as Linux, Windows, CentOS, and UNIX, and a variety of hardware platforms, including IBM System x racks and BladeCenter, PureFlex, and Power Systems.
To understand the significance of dynamic VM provisioning, Suffern draws an example from the “old days” of telephony, where Danish engineer A. K. Erlang and others devised ways of designing telephone systems around typical user behavior to determine how many switching centers and central offices would be needed and where.
This system works well until everybody needs to make a call – for instance, when a disaster strikes a region. “In a telephone network, everything becomes jammed,” says Suffern, “But in a cloud environment, you’re able to seamlessly move virtual machines around to where the user experience is maintained across the cloud.”
This patent gives IBM a significant advantage when it comes to the cloud, Suffern says. Without a way to reposition VMs to account for networking bandwidth, he says, “the user experience would degrade specifically in times of high network utilization.” These situations of greater-than-normal-usage could be a sporting event or a tragic accident where people want information quickly.
This is when network response time is critical, and adding more physical infrastructure isn’t an option.