Suspending Classes without Stopping Learning: Alibaba Cloud X-Dragon + Container Solution

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By Lu Xiaoming (Xiaoming)

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To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic, all sectors of society have postponed the resumption of work and school. As a response, the Ministry of Education proposed the use of online education to ensure that students can continue learning as we work to control the epidemic.

Major schools and educational institutions have responded to the call, creating a surge in the demand for online education. Students generally study online at the same times each day, creating a peak period that features high traffic and concurrency. This poses a major challenge to the flexibility and stability of online education institutions.

In the face of sudden traffic spikes, enterprises must quickly, dynamically, and elastically scale their services and efficiently perform management and O&M. Therefore, their original architecture solutions must be effectively upgraded right away.

Coping with Sudden Traffic Spikes with Alibaba Cloud X-Dragon and Container Solution

The X-Dragon + container solution provided by Alibaba Cloud is ideal for such scenarios. This solution is highly regarded by online education enterprises and has already been used by several enterprises for their distance learning and remote collaboration platforms. This solution not only improves the overall availability and reliability of the system, but also greatly simplifies the development and iteration process of business applications. Instead of complicated IT system support work, you can instead perform online business and user support. This provides a lightweight solution that is suited to the current situation.

ECS Bare Metal (EBM) instances are based on the X-Dragon architecture developed by Alibaba Cloud, which offloads the network and storage virtualization overhead to a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) hardware accelerator card called an MOC card. This reduces the computing virtualization overhead by about 8% compared to the original ECS instance. Due to the cost advantages of large-scale MOC card production, the overhead of X-Dragon is kept low.

The design of X-Dragon physical servers supports secondary virtualization, leaving room for technological progress. It also allows you to use a variety of virtualization technologies, such as Kata and Firecracker.

This makes the combination of X-Dragon and containers a perfect match. According to Alibaba test data from the Mid-Year Shopping Festival, the performance of containers that run on X-Dragon is 10% to 15% better than those running on non-cloud physical servers. Generally, this is because the virtualization overhead is offloaded to the MOC card. X-Dragon has no CPU or Mem virtualization overhead, and each container that runs on X-Dragon is assigned a dedicated elastic network interface (ENI) after migration. This gives X-Dragon a distinct performance advantage.

Containerized building methods provide businesses with quick release capabilities and elasticity. The underlying layer uses X-Dragon servers and Container Service to meet the needs of online education businesses by providing high-traffic, high-concurrency, and high-stability capabilities at a low cost.

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Key Features of the Solution

The solution provides five benefits:

1) Ultimate Performance and Improved Utilization

Alibaba Cloud Container Service for Kubernetes (ACK) can directly run on Alibaba Cloud EMB instances with zero CPU or memory virtualization performance loss. With the advantages of the X-Dragon architecture, the overall performance is superior to a physical machine with the same configuration. In a wide range of containerized scenarios, you can use the container scheduling capability of Kubernetes for hybrid application deployment. This improves resource utilization by more than 300%, makes full use of the superior performance of EBM instances, and improves cost performance.

2) Fast Creation and Simplified O&M

Compared with traditional physical machines that can be delivered within hours, EBM instances can be created and started in minutes. They can take advantage of the scheduling and orchestration capabilities of Kubernetes and, through the close coordination between ACK and Alibaba Cloud infrastructure (such as SLB, VPC, NAS, and SLS), services can be rapidly deployed. This greatly simplifies the process, reduces O&M costs, and improves the automation of the online education business architecture, allowing it to provide the elasticity needed during peak hours.

3) Enhanced Network Features and Performance

Compared with traditional physical machines, EBM instances support 32 or more ENIs. The Kubernetes Terway container network used by Alibaba Cloud can be used with multiple ENIs to fully utilize the high bandwidth and high Packets Per Second (PPS) features of EBM instances. The cross-host network bandwidth between containers has almost no performance loss compared with that of the host. In addition, the cross-host network supports high traffic volumes and highly concurrent network requests during peak hours.

4) Physical-level Isolation with Application-level Encryption

EBM instances feature zero CPU and memory virtualization and full exclusivity, providing higher security and isolation to ensure the stability of instances.

5) Robust Fault Recovery and Multi-Zone Redundancy

With the automatic failover and recovery capabilities of EBM instances and Kubernetes’ fault recovery drift for containers, the solution significantly improves the system’s availability and automated O&M capabilities. In addition, based on the multi-zone deployment of EBM instances, the Alibaba Cloud Kubernetes cluster network provides application disaster recovery capabilities through cross-region redundancy based on physical machines. This ensures the availability of online education services.

While continuing to wage war against the worldwide outbreak, Alibaba Cloud will play its part and will do all it can to help others in their battles with the coronavirus. Learn how we can support your business continuity at https://www.alibabacloud.com/campaign/fight-coronavirus-covid-19

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