Haizea and Private Clouds

The latest version of the Haizea Lease Manager (Technology Preview 1.3) was released a few days ago, so this seems like a good opportunity to talk about why Haizea exists and what it means to OpenNebula users.

As most readers of this blog know, OpenNebula allows you to manage the dynamic deployment of virtual machines (VMs) on a pool of physical resources. There are many reasons why you would want to virtualize your infrastructure (see the OpenNebula use cases at the bottom of this page), and the one I will focus on here is creating a “private cloud” (a subject that has been discussed previously on this blog).

Since we’re entering the perilous terrain of buzzwordiness, let me stop for a second to clarify that whenever I use the term “cloud” in this post, I specifically mean an “Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) cloud”, such as Amazon’s EC2, where computational infrastructure is provisioned on-demand as virtual machines on a large data center. Yes, I realize “cloud” can and does mean many other things (although we’re still far from agreeing on what it means) but, for now, let’s stick to the IaaS aspect of clouds.

One of the the characteristics that is frequently attributed to clouds is that of “infinite capacity”. Thus, large cloud providers like Amazon EC2, Flexiscale, and ElasticHosts have evolved towards an immediate provisioning model: when users asks for additional capacity, they get it, subject to some reasonable limitations (there may be a delay in setting up the extra VMs, providers may have limits on how much capacity one single user can request, etc.) If you assume infinite capacity, this provisioning model is pretty reasonable. There is no need to, for example, allow users to make reservations in advance: if you need resources from 2pm to 4pm, why would you need to reserve them? Just show up at 2pm and they will be there for you, because capacity is “infinite”.

Of course, there is no such thing as “infinite capacity”, but large cloud providers can at least provide the illusion of infinite capacity. However, if you have a relatively small number of resources (compared to Amazon or Google) and want to build a “private cloud” with OpenNebula on top them, you’re probably in no position to assume you’ve got infinite capacity.

But why would you want to create a “private cloud”? Isn’t outsourcing your infrastructure to large external providers (instead of keeping them in-house), thus reducing your IT expenses, one of the biggest selling points of cloud computing? Sure, but some of us will still have our own IT infrastructure to manage and, although datacenter virtualization has been around since before “clouds” became “the next big thing”, there are certain benefits to managing your infrastructure like a “private cloud”:

  1. You can provide your in-house users with all the benefits of deploying their machines on EC2, without actually paying EC2 to do it. My intuition is that, if you already have an IT infrastructure that is mostly amortized, this will make sense financially (unlike a business with no IT infrastructure, where relying on a large cloud provider makes more sense than making a huge initial investment on new infrastructure). That said, I will be more than happy to be corrected on this point, as it is simply an intuition.
  2. You can become a cloud provider. Having a “private cloud” doesn’t preclude the possibility of adding a public interface, using tools like Nimbus or Eucalyptus, and turning all or part of your private cloud into a public cloud that can be accessed by external users via the Internet.
  3. All of the above. If you’re servicing in-house users, it’s almost certain that your infrastructure will be underutilized some of the time. This unused capacity could be sold to external users.

This is all nice and dandy but, as I said earlier, a private cloud can’t assume it has “infinite capacity”. Thus, relying on an immediate provisioning model just doesn’t hold water. Requests for resources are going to have to be prioritized, queued, pre-reserved, and even rejected. Tools for building private clouds will need to support more sophisticated resource scheduling than just immediate provisioning, and this is where Haizea comes in.

Haizea is a lease manager that can be used as a drop-in replacement for OpenNebula’s scheduler, providing scheduling features not found in other cloud and virtualization solutions, such as efficient support for advance reservations, queuing of best-effort requests and, coming soon, pluggable scheduling policies. While still supporting an immediate provisioning model, Haizea also allows OpenNebula users to pre-reserve resources (in anticipation of capacity peaks) or queue requests that can afford to wait a while (another feature that will be added to Haizea in the future is best-effort scheduling with deadlines, so there will be a finite bound on the waiting time). Again, if you have a datacenter of Amazonic proportions, Haizea probably makes no sense. But if you have a more modest datacenter, and want to build a private cloud on it, you will need to be more judicious about how you slice up your resources amongst users (and I suspect that most of us fall into the non-Amazonic category).

To wrap this up, I’d like to refer to a technical report that has been getting quite a bit of press lately, “Above the Clouds: A Berkeley View of Cloud Computing“. This report has been getting mixed reviews and, personally, I can’t say I agree with many of the things they say, particularly the way they dismiss private clouds right from the outset. However, I think they raised a good point in “Number 5 Obstacle [for Cloud Computing]: Performance Unpredictability”, where they stated:

The obstacle to attracting HPC is not the use of clusters; most parallel computing today is done in large clusters using the message-passing interface MPI. The problem is that many HPC applications need to ensure that all the threads of a program are running simultaneously, and today’s virtual machines and operating systems do not provide a programmer-visible way to ensure this. Thus, the opportunity to overcome this obstacle is to offer something like “gang scheduling” for Cloud Computing.

Haizea, in fact, has supported VM gang scheduling from day one. The lease abstraction used in Haizea allows users to request not just individual VMs, but groups of VMs that must be treated atomically. In other words, VM that must either all be running simultaneously or not at all (which involves gang-scheduling those VMs)

So, if you’re interested in virtual machine scheduling that goes beyond immediate provisioning, I invite you to check out Haizea. It’s still a technology preview, but it’s being actively developed and a 1.0 release shouldn’t be too far off.

Borja Sotomayor

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