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might be because the cluster between a and b doesn't form. When using remote caches both connect to the same remote instance (a most likely).
It is possible that both end up on the same server, but its weird that its very consistent. I can rerun the test multiple times, after restarting infinispan repeatedly, data remains. It seems like the data does get synchronized. Even then, I do see the clustering happening when I start up in remote mode, so I'm not sure why it won't work in local JVM mode.
Ended up being a firewall issue. Disabled the firewall and everything ran correctly.