IBM touts new method for cutting network bottlenecks

Technology company IBM Corp. said it has patented a way to remove bottlenecks and performance issues afflicting many cloud application by dynamically shifting virtual machines to match bandwidth demand.

Ed Suffern, an IBM systems engineer and lead on the team that was named in the patent, said in an interview the process could help content or service providers facing event-related spikes in network traffic – a rush to a Web site to see the results of a tennis championship, for example.

“You’re eliminating hot spots in the cloud to provide a better user environment,” he said.

While the Internet these days moves at lightning speed, the U.S. patent office saw no reason to rush: The patent application was submitted in 2009 and was only granted earlier this year – along with eight other cloud-related software patents. Suffern, who has experience working on network, server design and, most recently, high performance computing, was part of all of them.

The process in this particular patent would be used in a software-defined network to create a software based provisioning manager that would sit alongside the network controller in an SDN.

Broadly speaking, in a software defined network the controller automatically oversees all elements of a network, expanding and contracting resources as applications demand.

But Suffrin says the provisioning manager would go a step further. It would receive signals from the network interface card (NIC) on a physical server holding virtual machines that can signal if traffic going into or out of it is overwhelming. The provisioning manager then looks for a server that has less of a load, and transfers some virtual machines to it.

Dynamic provisioning of IT resources is, in many ways, the holy grail for the software defined data center,” commented Zeus Kerravala, principal of ZK Research, in an email. “Ideally, all IT resources would be allocated and then re-provisioned on the fly as applications require it.  The announcement by IBM is in alignment with where the industry is going and may advance customers that have a large part of their infrastructure either managed by IBM or that uses IBM infrastructure.”

The method patented by IBM is called Dynamically Provisioning Virtual Machines. The company said DPM is ideal for applications such as online systems running within a cloud that experience “dramatic of unprecedented peaks and valleys” in demand for services, such as online retailers and auction sites, search engines, government Web sites, news sites and online sites for major sporting events.

Suffern said there are three groups in IBM looking into how to commercialize the patent. A product won’t be seen this year, he added.

To read the full patent, click here.

“It took us about six months to come up with the idea,” he said, which was part of work that led to the other eight patents.

A lot has changed in the five years between the submission and granting of the patent. At the time Suffern and his team were working out the solution, they were looking at network speeds topping 10 Gbps. Now, he said, network infrastructures range from 40 Gbps to 100 Gbps. And the amount of data travelling on networks has expanded.

As a result, he thinks the patent has more value now than it did in 2009, when applications weren’t as network-intensive.

By the way, Suffern has his name on 20 patents of the 85 IBM has so far submitted.

(With additional material by Howard Solomon, ITWC)

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Nestor E. Arellano
Nestor E. Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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