Ever since I came up with the crazy idea of creating an Azure application that would spin up 256 worker roles (please vote if you like it ) to render a 3D animation created using the Kinect depth camera I have been trying to think of something useful to do with it.
I have also been busy working on developing training materials for a Windows Azure course that I will be delivering through a training partner in Stockholm, and for customers wanting to learn Windows Azure. I hit on the idea of combining the render demo and a course lab and creating a lab where the students would create and deploy their own mini render farms, which would participate in a single render job, consisting of 2,000 frames.
The architecture of the solution is shown below.
As students would be creating and deploying their own applications, I thought it would be fun to introduce some competitiveness into the lab. In the 256 worker role demo I capture the rendering statistics for each role, so it was fairly simple to include the students name in these statistics. This allowed the process monitor application to capture the number of frames each student had rendered and display a high-score table.
When I demoed the application I deployed one instance that started rendering a frame every few minutes, and the challenge for the students was to deploy and scale their applications, and then overtake my single role instance by the end of the lab time. I had the process monitor running on the projector during the lab so the class could see the progress of their deployments, and how they were performing against my implementation and their classmates.
When I tested the lab for the first time in Oslo last week it was a great success, the students were keen to be the first to build and deploy their solution and then watch the frames appear. As the students mostly had MSDN suspicions they were able to scale to the full 20 worker role instances and before long we had over 100 worker roles working on the animation.
There were, however, a few issues who the couple of issues caused by the competitive nature of the lab. The first student to scale the application to 20 instances would render the most frames and win; there was no way for others to catch up. Also, as they were competing against each other, there was no incentive to help others on the course get their application up and running.
I have now re-written the lab to divide the student into teams that will compete to render the most frames. This means that if one developer on the team can deploy and scale quickly, the other team still has a chance to catch up. It also means that if a student finishes quickly and puts their team in the lead they will have an incentive to help the other developers on their team get up and running.
As I was using “Sharks with Lasers” for a lot of my demos, and reserved the sharkswithfreakinlasers namespaces for some of the Azure services (well somebody had to do it), the students came up with some creative alternatives, like “Camels with Cannons” and “Honey Badgers with Homing Missiles”. That gave me the idea for the teams having to choose a creative name involving animals and weapons.
The team rendering architecture diagram is shown below.
Render Challenge Rules
In order to ensure fair play a number of rules are imposed on the lab.
· The class will be divided into teams, each team choses a name.
· The team name must consist of a ferocious animal combined with a hazardous weapon.
· Teams can allocate as many worker roles as they can muster to the render job.
· Frame processing statistics and rendered frames will be vigilantly monitored; any cheating, tampering, and other foul play will result in penalties.
The screenshot below shows an example of the team render farm in action, Badgers with Bombs have taken a lead over Camels with Cannons, and both are leaving the Sharks with Lasers standing.
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