Posts Tagged true compute elasticity

Google App Engine and instant-on for hibernating applications

At the #awssummit @Werner mentioned the micro instances and how they were useful to support use cases such as simple monitoring roles or to host services that need to always be on and listen for occasional events. @simonmunro cynically suggested it was a way of squeezing life out of old infrastructure.

I would prefer applications to hibernate, release resources and stop billing me but come back on instantly on demand.

Virtual Machine centric compute clouds (whether they be PaaS or IaaS oriented) exhibit this annoying “irreducible minimum” issue, whereby you have to leave some lights on. Not necessarily for storage, cloud databases or queues such as S3, SQS, SimpleDB, SES, SNS, Azure Table Storage etc. – they are always alive and will respond to a request irrespective of volume or frequency. They scale from 0 upwards. Not so for compute. Compute typically scales from 1 or 2 upwards (depending on your SLA view of availability).

This is one feature I really like about Google’s App Engine. The App Engine fabric brokers incoming requests, resolves it to the serving application and launches instances of the application if none are already running. An application can be idle for weeks consuming no compute resources and then near-instantly burst into life and scale up fast and furiously before returning to 0 when everything goes quiet. This is how elasticity of compute should behave.

My own personal application on App Engine remains idle most of the time. I am unable to detect that my first request has forced App Engine to instantiate an instance of my application first. My application is simple, but a new instance of my Python application will get a memcached cache-miss for all objects and proceed to the datastore to query for my data, put this data into the cache, and then pass the view-model objects to Django for rendering. Brilliantly fast. I can picture a pool of Python EXEs idling and suddenly the fabric picks one, hands it a pointer to my code base and an active request – bam – instant-on application.

For those applications that cannot give good performance from a cold start, App Engine supports the notion of “Always On” by forcing instances to stay alive with caches all loaded and ready for action:

The screen shots below show my App Engine dashboard before my first request, how it spins up a single instance to cope with demand followed by termination after ten minutes of being idle.

Stage 1: View of the dashboard – no instances running – no activity in the past 24 hours


Stage 2: A request has created a single instance of the application and the average latency is 147ms. The page appeared PDQ in my browser.


Stage 3: 17 Requests later, and the average latency has dropped. One instance is clearly sufficient to support one user poking around.


Stage 4: I left the application alone for nearly ten minutes. My instance is still alive, but nothing happening.


Stage 5: After about ten minutes of being idle my application instance vanishes. App Engine has reclaimed the resources.




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