Environmental, Social, and Governance

Behind the Scenes of the Folding@home Demo at VMworld 2020 Keynote

A few months ago, I shared about the VMware Folding@home appliance project I started with Team VMware #52737. Since the release of our Fling, we have seen over 42,000 downloads, and watched our Team VMware FAH community grow to over 1000 users. When Chris Wolf asked if I could demo Folding@home in the VMware CTO general session keynote at VMworld, I knew it needed to be cool! This is the Office of the CTO, after all. While fighting diseases like COVID-19, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s as citizen scientists is very cool into itself (or very hot if you are next to your folding computer!), many of us have been deploying appliances to ESXi for over a decade, and it does not make for a fascinating demo.

Demo Challenge #1: Make it easy to be a Force for Good at the click of a button with vRA

vRealize Automation is one of my favorite VMware solutions because you can automate anything with vRA. A few years ago, I was a judge in a hackathon where someone brewed coffee with a vRealize Automation, vRA, blueprint. vRA’s capabilities of managing multiple sites and thousands of workloads across clouds is a perfect fit for showing VMworld attendees how they can be a Force for Good at the click of a button. With vRA anyone can use their idle infrastructure for folding and can then repurpose the infrastructure immediately if the resources are needed for another project. Luckily, Anderson Duboc’s vRA blueprint to deploy the VMware Appliance for Folding@home was available on Github. Copying and pasting the YAML code into a new vRA blueprint in my vRA Cloud instance took only a few seconds.

Demo Challenge #2: Deploy and Manage the VMware Appliance for Folding@home on VMware Cloud on AWS

The next problem to solve was where to deploy the appliance for the demo. My homelab environment wasn’t completely configured. It was the weekend, and I wanted to spend time with my family, not with servers in the basement. Luckily, I have access to a VMware Cloud on AWS environment. It took about an hour to log into the VMC on AWS interface, deploy a new Software-defined Data Center, or SDDC, and have a cluster available to run the appliance. Then came the real work: configuring VMware Cloud on AWS and vRealize Automation Cloud to complete the demo.

Our vRealize Automation documentation is quite thorough and I was able to quickly find instructions for setting up a VMC on AWS cloud account. After I gave vRA access to VMC on AWS, it was then a matter of configuring cloud zones, networking information, storage, and other pertinent information for vRA to place workloads. A complete walkthrough of how to configure vRA for VMware Cloud on AWS can be found here.

While configuring the VMware Cloud on AWS environment, I was concerned I was doing all of this over a public interface, so I investigated how can I access vCenter securely as an individual. The most common method for connecting an enterprise network to VMC on AWS environment is through a direct connection and routing the subnets over Boreder Gateway Protocol, BGP. This was not an option for my demo environment with an impending deadline. However, VMC on AWS does have a policy based VPN option that was a perfect fit for my use case.

I initially configured the policy-based VPN between my SDDC and my home router, a UniFi Secure Gateway. However, when I tried to perform the next step of the demo, I couldn’t maintain connectivity to the Folding@home client. When I tried to delete the VPN from my USG, it was unresponsive because the CPU and memory resources were insufficient to route the two subnets I configured in the policy-based VPN. After grudgingly going downstairs to manually reboot my router and restore internet to the many devices in the house, including the NVIDIA Shield we were streaming Netflix on, I had another plan – my Velocloud Edge 510!

Demo Challenge #3: Securely manage Folding@home Clients running in the cloud from my couch!

Usually, my computer is physically connected to the VeloCloud Edge, VCE, while working as my office has multiple ethernet RJ45 jacks for reliable connectivity for my devices. But I didn’t want to sit in my office on the weekend. A simple solution was to log into the VeloCloud Orchestrator and update my VCE’s profile to broadcast a wireless network. A few seconds after saving the configuration, it was pushed to my VCE. I immediately connected to the VCE WiFi and continued configuring the policy-based VPN in the VeloCloud Orchestrator, or VCO, to route traffic between my VMware Cloud on AWS Software-defined Data Center, and any devices connected to my VCE. To learn more about the VeloCloud architecture and numerous Enterprise and work from home benefits, visit the VeloCloud site.

The performance of the policy-based VPN through the VeloCloud Edge was flawless. I was able to give my demo its final touch, managing my Folding@home clients, or FAHClients, through a single FAHControl window running on my laptop. In the final demo that VMware CTO Greg Lavender gave in his keynote, you are seeing my local FAHClient, Alienware gaming PC FAHClient, and the VMware Appliance for Folding@home FAHClients running in VMware Cloud on AWS managed by FAHControl.

One final and important detail I want to note is that before I built this FAH demo in one Sunday afternoon from my couch, I had never deployed a VMware Cloud on AWS Software-defined Data Center, never configured vRealize Automation to deploy workloads to VMC on AWS, and never configured a policy-based VPN. VMware Cloud Services and SD-WAN are that easy to consume. Imagine what they could do for an enterprise!

You can learn more about the Folding@home project with Dr. Gregory Bowman, Director of Folding@home, in the VMworld on-demand session “Citizen Philanthropy in Action: Folding@home” [OCTO2230].