Recently, Skytap’s virtual lab capabilities were the center point of IBM’s Fast Start summit. Held in three locations, IBM Fast Start is a global cloud summit drawing more than 8,000 attendees. At Fast Start, IBM employees and partners spend a week learning about developments in the ever-growing IBM Cloud product suite.

Scale of Operations

IBM Fast Start has grown considerably over the years; both from the number of attendees and the amount of required compute resources. Skytap’s multi-tenant cloud service, running in IBM Cloud, supports this growth year-over-year. The two key factors considered are the raw number of virtual resources and the speed of turnaround (starting/stopping/creating/deleting complete virtual data centers.). Here is a glimpse of those two variables at peak:

Peak Number of Concurrent Resources (IBM Fast Start – Las Vegas)

RAM (in GB)66,860
Storage (in TB)1,836.4
Virtual Machines3,516

Resource Totals (IBM Fast Start – Las Vegas)

Total Environments Provisioned3,735
Templates (discrete training courses)103

Preparation

Accurate forecasting and thorough testing are the two most fundamental elements to ensure a successful IBM Fast Start. Discussions on courseware, curriculum and scheduling begins months prior to Fast Start. Estimates are gathered by the IBM internal teams and provided back to Skytap. Skytap’s ability to scale on-demand to support these massive workloads, provides IBM the confidence that even if workload requirements change late stage (which happens) the event is still going to be successful. The other critical success point is curriculum development. IBM relies on product owners and developers to produce and publish their own content for these events; Skytap provides an efficient content development engine that gives IBM product owners self-service access to the base content, and simple workflows to publish finished content.

In addition to forecasting, IBM staged a full regional deployment in advance of the event. The test was designed to make sure the following components were functional at scale:

  • Every Environment must launch within 15 minutes of an established time window.
  • Connections must be issued to each Environment concurrently.
  • Deletion of the Skytap Environments after each has been tested.

The test was a success and gave the team a chance to make some changes to the Event Tool in advance. Part of the testing was also to see whether the IBM Event Tool could be tailored to action more (or fewer) requests at a given time based on the performance of Skytap’s multi-tenant infrastructure. After the test was completed, it was found that the event tool’s deployment speed was conservative and Skytap was capable of handling more requests. As a result, IBM quintupled the speed at which environments were being deployed/run, which substantially benefitted Fast Start.

Execution

A war room was created on-site for the event to provide IBM the ability to quickly address any issues that might arise during the event. Members of the IBM event team and a Skytap representative were stationed in the room and available to course authors and facilitators for urgent issues. Each day of the event, time was spent designing and solidifying a deployment schedule for the following day. This provided flexibility and fluidity in the deployment schedule to accommodate last minute changes, additional attendees, or adding content and curriculum to meet demand. Using this approach, IBM was able to make schedule changes up to the very last minute. The elements that comprise an effective schedule are:

  • Number of Environments
  • Amount of RAM
  • Amount of Storage
  • Runtime
  • Room Size
  • Special Considerations (extended schedule, need for jump hosts, etc.)

Even at the scale of this event, Skytap and IBM Cloud performed extremely well, producing a consistent, performant experience for all users. All things considered, the upfront planning and preparation between Skytap, IBM, and the facility paid dividends in an extraordinarily successful event.

In Summation + Going Forward

IBM has used Skytap on IBM Cloud for Fast Start for many years now, and consistently produced exceptional results. These successes continue to build on the strong partnership between Skytap and IBM. Many of the features and upgrades to Skytap’s service have come from the needs of these events. Most of the workloads hosted this year (and years past) have been x86 – but with Skytap’s support for IBM Power, IBM will look to incorporate AIX, IBM i, and Linux on Power workloads in the future.