Google launches virtual machines for the budget-minded

Google 'preemptible' VMs cost 70 percent less than standard virtual machines, but may be discontinued at any time

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Everyone loves a bargain, even in the IT industry.

Following a beta period launched in May, Google has made its low-cost "preemptible" virtual machines available as a full commercial offering.

The Google Compute Engine Preemptible Virtual Machines can cost 70 percent less than regular VMs on the Google Cloud Platform, with the stipulation that Google can shut down these machines at any time.

Google offers these VMs using the leftover capacity within their data centers. A VM can act as a virtual server, one that contains an operating system, application and support libraries.

Despite their tenuous nature, the preemptible VMs can be useful for a number of different workloads, especially batch processing jobs that aren't time sensitive and distributed jobs that don't rely on a single VM to complete operations.

One company already taking advantage of this service is high-performance computing services provider Cycle Computing, which used the preemptible VMs to set up a system on behalf of one of its clients, Broad Institute.

The cancer research center deployed a workload across more than 51,200 preemptible VMs to study mutations in more than 1.4 million cancer cells, to learn through machine learning how they may be similar to other cancer-driven mutation of cells.

By spreading out the workload across so many VMs, Broad Institute was able to complete the job in six hours, as opposed to the six weeks the job would have required otherwise, according to Cycle Computing.

The Google service has also been used for financial modeling, media transcoding, manufacturing design, big data analysis, and Web crawling, according to Google.

The budget service is similar to Amazon Web Service's Spot Instances, also designed for jobs that can be interrupted. AWS' model is different because its price can fluctuate according to demand, whereas Google's prices are fixed.

Google did not indicate how often the preemptible VMs have been abruptly terminated, though in a blog post announcing the full release, Paul Nash, who is the Google senior product manager for the Google Compute Engine, hinted that they are less likely to be killed on nights and weekends.

When a preemptible VM is about to be shut down, Google sends a 30-second warning to the VM to get its affairs in order for its imminent demise. The VM cannot be enabled to restart automatically, nor does Google offer any guarantee that preemptible VMs will always be available.

Preemptible VMs start at US$0.015 per hour. The VMs are also part of a 30-day free trial Google offers for its cloud services.

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