Virtualising Dublin

The system is initially being used for Windows specification office data; domain controllers; file shares and around 100 applications, including Autopass for self-scan boarding passes, taxi management and queue management. (DAA)

Global technology company Hewlett-Packard has provided a new virtualisation solution for Dublin Airport Authority. Caroline Cook reports.

DAA, which operates Cork, Shannon and Dublin (pictured) airports, began migrating to HP’s Converged Infrastructure system at the beginning of 2012. (DAA)

Government-owned Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), which runs Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports in the Republic of Ireland, welcomed 22.7 million passengers and attained €558 million (US$722m) revenue in 2011.
Owning and operating three airports is a major task and as well as handling around 96% of the country’s international air traffic, the company deals with other businesses, including car parking, retail and property.  It also has duty free endeavours in Russia, the Middle East and China.
With such a substantial business portfolio, it is important that DAA has a reliable and efficient information technology (IT) system.  It chose Hewlett-Packard (HP), the world’s largest provider of technology and infrastructure, to help it control and organise its digital operations.
 
Converged Infrastructure
A new virtualisation solution based on HP Converged Infrastructure (CI) was selected by DAA from the IT giant, with plans for it to meet the authority’s technology requirements for the next five years.
“Around 70% of what we do is in infrastructure products,” said Peter Ryan, Senior VP, HP EMEA.  “Furthermore, customers today are spending around 70% maintaining and sustaining existing environments, and only around 30% on innovation.
“With CI we are trying to reverse that.  We’re trying to free up as much of the money that is spent on operations to allow that to be spent on innovation and new projects.”

The system is initially being used for Windows specification office data; domain controllers; file shares and around 100 applications, including Autopass for self-scan boarding passes, taxi management and queue management. (DAA)

Gerry Luttrell, DAA’s Chief Information Officer, added: “We selected HP to handle [our] expanding workload because of its proven track record in delivering and supporting virtualisation solutions with the required scale and resilience.
“HP CI is a core component of our overall IT strategy.  It can be scaled to cope with DAA’s future requirements for IT and business delivery, including business-critical operations systems for retail, airport operations and DAA’s Business Intelligence dashboard.”
Importantly, the system provides 24/7 solutions all the year round.  Mr Luttrell believes that DAA will see a return on investment within 18 months, and a substantial overall saving within five years.
According to Dave McCabe, Technology Solutions Manager at DAA, it was very clear what was needed from the solution: “We were hoping to consolidate servers and storage.  We were looking at increasing the availability to make it much more robust; to manage it centrally; to keep costs down; to make the system scalable and flexible.”
So what exactly is virtualisation?  The system provides DAA with a more efficient and effective data centre, consolidating the traditional servers and storage into smaller and more powerful machines, with the addition of management tools, policies and processes.
Converged Infrastructure is also important for overcoming IT sprawl, where multiple, under-utilised systems consume more resources than is needed.  Integrating digital security, it can be shared simultaneously by hundreds of applications and is managed as an entire service.
 
Set-up
When DAA decided to invest at the beginning of 2012, HP’s Technology Services provided detailed solution designs along with testing specifications, project management, implementation and migration for the 80 initial business services.
The virtualisation farm operating at Dublin’s data centre now includes user acceptance testing (UAT) machines; Symantec’s backup and recovery suite NetBackup; recovery solution vRanger which improves the system’s ESXis (enterprise software hypervisors, or virtual machine managers); and the vCentre, which manages the entire virtual infrastructure.
The virtualisation farm in Dublin's data centre includes UAT machines; Symantec's backup and recovery suite Netbackup; recovery solution vRanger which improves the system's ESXis; and the vCentre, which manages the entire virtual infrastructure. (Top: DAA; Bottom: HP)

A useful and time-saving, self-service element of the system allows people with the right authority to create their own UAT server, in order to test an application before allowing it to go live.  The UAT environment, using HP subsidiary 3PAR’s F400 Storage Systems (from HP’s F Series), is used for what industry insiders call a ‘crash and burn’ process.  Users can be simulated to ‘run’ an application to ensure that there are no bugs in it, ensuring that when the system does go live at the airport, real users aren’t disappointed.
The live production side of DAA’s data centre utilises dual redundant HP 3PAR V400 Storage Systems (from HP’s V Series).  Both the V Series (the virtualisation system itself) and the F Series are housed in ProLiant BladeSystem c7000 enclosures on the latest generation ProLiant BL460 server blades.  The blades (stripped-down, modular servers, of which HP holds 55% of the market share) are stored vertically within the enclosures, ensuring a high level of redundancy.  If one shelf within the enclosure is lost, the data can be saved by its partner blades, which replicate the data from other drives within the group using HP’s Site Level Disaster Recovery for vRanger.
The entire CI system is based around VMware software, which consolidates several servers into one.
Mr McCabe explained:  “If you have a server attached to some storage, normally you only have one application.  It might only use a fraction of that storage.
“With virtualisation, you’ve got your storage, in this case a blade, and you can put 25 to 30 distinct application servers on there.  The VMware ensures that the applications all have their own storage and can act as 30 different machines.  You have virtualised that server to become 30 servers.”
Previously, Dublin was working with more than 360 physical servers, with standard units holding around four gigabytes (GB) of random-access memory (RAM).
An example of CI at work is Dublin Airport’s next-generation CCTV solution.  Without the virtualisation technology, it would need around 20 servers, 40 network links, 40 power supplies and 40 storage area networks (SANs).  With the new farm, Dublin’s CCTV only requires eight blades across its enclosures.  Altogether, DAA has seen around 50% savings in storage alone.
Mr Luttrell added: “The driving force here is centralisation.  It’s like buying a house: you’ve bought the house and it’s your choice how you allocate space and put furniture in at a later time.”
It was important that the authority’s IT vendors supported the integral VMware software before the system was installed.  “We want the vendors’ software to operate in this type of environment,” said Mr Luttrell.  “We don’t want to be using physical servers, given that we’ve made an investment here.  If a vendor wants us to use their software now, it must operate in this environment, so this is going to drive change at the software level as well.”
DAA is particularly pleased with the product’s scalability.  Using the house analogy, the system comes with a type of planning permission.  Dublin’s data centre has two enclosures that hold around 28 blades, but only four are currently employed so there is plenty of room for D   AA’s future plans.
The system is initially being used for Windows specification office data; domain controllers; file shares and around 100 applications, including Autopass for self-scan boarding passes, taxi management and queue management.
 
Additional Features
The virtualised solution includes thin provisioning at the servers, where the technology is used to give the appearance of having more physical resources than is actually available.
Mr McCabe explained: “Say System 1 wants one terabyte [TB] of storage.  We know from history that that’s going to use a fifth of that – 200GB.  With thin provisioning, the machine thinks that it has a full TB and acts on that, meaning that the extra 800GB can be used by other machines.  You’re pretending that it has a full TB – that it will never use – and you’re saving huge amounts.”
Perhaps the most virtualised feature – and certainly the most efficient – is dynamic optimisation.  This ensures that an application will run at the highest possible tier of storage needed, without wasting any space.  In the same way, the system will drop the application down through the tiers if it is using too much of the storage.
This system also includes the Data Centre Failover, enabling it to switch over automatically to a redundant or standby computer server.
Mr McCabe said: “If there’s an issue on one side, it will fail over transparently to the other.  If there’s an issue in the entire data centre, it can actually jump across to another data centre and runs over there.  You get all of those additional features by going down this road.  It doesn’t cost us any extra.”
Converged Infrastructure benefits from Microsoft System Center Operations Manager (SCOM), HP Remote Monitoring and Multiple Level Monitoring of all its components, while the airport authority is further supported by DAA’s
Critical Advantage Service.  “We provide highly-available, highly-scalable, highly-secure environments for our customers,” says Mr Ryan.  “We don’t just ship it, we send people to make sure that that service promise is delivered in design, implementation and support.”
These services include HP 3PAR Dial Home which informs DAA of any issues with the system, before it has an effect on operations.
As well as the obvious benefits of storage and server savings, product support and recovery processes, DAA has also recognised the cost-saving aspects and increased speed of delivery and performance with the new system.
Mr McCabe gave an example:  “We’ve just migrated our retail business intelligence on to the system.  A data refresh – which used to take seven hours – now takes two and a half.”