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IBM & SoftLayer Get to Poke AWS in the Eye

SoftLayer offered the power and speed needed, as well as the raw compute, without any extra virtualization

Amazon Web Services has lost a nice piece of glory business to SoftLayer, the public cloud company IBM just paid an estimated $2 billion to buy reportedly for the pleasure of poking AWS in the eye.

Big Blue just got that distinct pleasure, heightened by the fact that it's making a nice chunk of change off the deal.

Here's what happened.

Amazon was supposed to host the first cloud-based DARPA Virtual Robotics Challenge (VRC). The idea was for some of the world's best engineers to develop their software in a virtual simulation, a challenge in itself, before getting to the actual robot phase of the competition.

Well, after initially using AWS, the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF), which runs the annual competition, ran into trouble with the speed of Amazon's server communication. So it switched to SoftLayer's bare metal platform, which was reportedly the only one it could find that could shorten communication loops between machines to 1k/second.

SoftLayer offered the power and speed needed, as well as the raw compute, without any extra virtualization.

The software developed in the VRC is supposed make a robot execute tasks that would be required of emergency personnel in a disaster response situation.

The VRC drew more than 100 teams from around the world and SoftLayer's cloud platform let them compete remotely.

The winners of the virtual competition will now move onto the next stage of the DRC and run the software they tested during the VRC in physical robots during a live event. This disaster-recovery robot is considered to be a lot tougher job to pull off than the pansy self-driving cars of past competitions and a good reason to test the stuff in a virtual environment first.

The robots will ultimately have to pull a lever or push a button in a disaster zone with minimal supervision and competitors in the DRC are expected to focus on robots that can use standard tools and equipment commonly available in human environments, ranging from hand tools to vehicles, with an emphasis on adaptability to tools with diverse specifications.

SoftLayer's chief scientist Nathan Day said, "The first Virtual Robotics Competition is an exclamation point in the evolution of the cloud, testing its performance limits and highlighting the need for bare metal servers and virtual environments to work in tandem."

In preparation for the VRC, OSRF configured SoftLayer's platform into a highly specialized format so teams could control their own server constellation apart from other teams. Through SoftLayer's API, each team was given five connected servers, including two high-end Nvidia dual-Intel Sandy Bridge servers with GPU isolated from any others in the competition. Teams were able to reload their own servers as needed, and OSRF could reset constellations to their virgin state once each team finished its simulation.

OSRF CEO Brian Gerkey said, "The VRC was an unprecedented initiative and required technology partners that were willing to go the extra mile to assure that this event made its mark in history."

DARPA hopes the creation of a widely available, validated, affordable, community-supported and enhanced virtual test environment will play a catalytic role in the development of robotics technology, allowing new hardware and software designs to be evaluated without needing physical prototyping.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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