Using Containers for a More Cost-Effective Cloud

on May 22, 2017

Even with the almost unimaginable efficiencies achieved by the major public cloud providers, at any given time they still have excess capacity that is left idle. And as an incentive to try to get some return on those resources, both AWS and Google Compute Engine are willing to sell those resources at a steep discount, usually starting at around 90%.

What’s the catch? Well, the prices are market driven, set by the highest bidder. It’s a classic marketplace model: demand drives the value of assets. The challenge for public cloud users, however, is that at any given time the spot instance you are using can be reclaimed if someone outbids you. With Amazon, you have two minutes to vacate the instance before it is terminated; Google Cloud gives you 30 seconds.

This volatility has kept the bulk of companies using public clouds away from this model. How can I expect to keep my application running if I can lose a server at any given moment, especially if setting up the server to be production ready takes significant amount of time? It is not uncommon for configuration management tools to take 10 or more minutes to install packages and deploy an application. The time it takes to set up a server and the narrow window of time to vacate makes it extremely challenging to make effective use of these discounted instance types.

 

How containers help optimize cloud costs

Well as you might have guessed, containers can help with this obstacle by using the spot market. The pre-built nature of containers means startup times can be drastically smaller than with a dynamic, scripted or configuration management-driven approach. The required packages, application code, and various files have all been figured out at build time, and written to essentially a compressed archive (Docker image). This means startup times for your application in the sub-minute time frame are now within reach.

Additionally, containers provide you with the confidence that you can deploy your application to new hosts and it will work as expected. The self-contained dependency model means everything the application needs is along for the ride. You don’t need to worry about your automation tools failing at a step where a required package is needed and ending up with a broken node.

 

Optimizing cloud costs with Rancher and Spotinst

To further enhance the stability when using spot instances, there are great products like Spotinst Elastigroup that uses predictive algorithms to help you anticipate market behavior, and preemptively migrate workloads between different spot types (based on price and availability) and on-demand equivalents when the market drives the spot price above list. Spotinst acts as a prediction layer to ensure you’re getting the best possible compute cost for your needs.

With Spotinst, you simply create a pool of instance types that will work for your container hosts, and Spotinst will choose which to provision based on factors such as current price and market stability. All that you need to do is to define the instance types that you would like to use as your hosts. Since Spotinst is cloud agnostic, you can define separate Elastigroups in AWS, GCP, and Azure, and use the Spotinst API to scale based on your preferences. (To read more on how Elastigroups score the spot market to help you optimize costs, head here).

Spotinst has long offered native integration with Rancher to automate adding the replacement nodes to your Rancher cluster so the containers on nodes slated for replacement can be gradually migrated off. Spotinst will instruct Rancher to pause each soon-to-be-disrupted container, and relocate it to another instance. This integration with Rancher makes it much easier to successfully use the spot market, without sacrificing application performance.

 

Learn more

If you were unable to make the webinar that Rancher, Spotinst, and Packet held yesterday on this topic, it’s not too late! The recording is still available online, and we encourage you to check it out.

To capture all the value of embracing containers, like increased developer agility, simplified CI/CD workflows, and better scalability, follow Rancher Labs on Twitter (@Rancher_Labs).

 

William Jimenez is a Solutions Architect at Rancher Labs.

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