At a time when most organisations are looking at using cloud computing in some way, UK airport ground handling business Menzies Aviation has invested $2m in updating its three internal datacentres with new servers, storage and cooling products.
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“Cloud is great if you want to put some data up there for use and forget about it, but if you want cluster storage and want to back up every piece of data you put up there, then cloud can become very expensive very quickly,” says Justin Apps, head of enterprise architecture at Menzies Aviation.
Apps offers more reasons for launching an internal datacentre hardware refresh project over adopting the cloud.
“Security and zero downtime are the two most important IT criteria for Menzies, which operates in more than 180 airports globally,” he says.
“We cannot have downtime at any time because every hour is peak load time for some part of our operations, and the airline companies penalise us for every delay in our service.”
This means Menzies’s IT infrastructure cannot afford to have any single point of failure. The IT team’s strategy to avoid downtime and failure is to operate multiple datacentres with the same workloads at the same time.
Menzies has three datacentres in the UK – its own datacentre facility near Heathrow Airport and two colocation datacentre facilities at Bracknell and Farnborough. “All our datacentres are absolutely identical, with the same servers and applications running on them,” says Apps.
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Most organisations have primary and secondary (active-passive) datacentres, where the secondary datacentre has a lower specification and kicks on only when the primary one fails. But Menzies operates an active-active datacentre, so that if one datacentre fails, it does not affect the service as another one carries on seamlessly.
“Not everyone is putting everything in the cloud. It is still evolving and it will become a very different beast tomorrow, with improved capabilities and more reliability. We will look at it then,” he says.
Menzies Aviation datacentre refresh project
As part of the datacentre refresh project, the IT team has started from its own datacentre in Heathrow. “It is nearly seven years old and is nearing the end of its life,” says Apps.
As part of the hardware refresh, the IT team decided to extend its contract with Dell, which it has worked with in the past. It spent $2m on green technology servers, next-generation 12G server racks, networking products, tape technology, high-capacity memory products and EqualLogic storage devices from Dell.
The IT team was also keen to replace its VMware virtualisation platform, vSphere, to save on licensing costs.
Dell recommended that Menzies participate in Microsoft's Rapid Deployment Programme to learn how to use Microsoft Windows Server 2012 and its virtualisation platform Hyper-V 3.0.
The IT team is in the process of migrating to Hyper-V 3.0. “We should complete our hardware refresh by November this year and will have saved around 20-25% on licensing.
Developing an energy-efficient datacentre
The hardware refresh project at Menzies also has a green, energy-efficient element to it.
The IT team is also planning to save an equal amount of money on power costs by deploying better datacentre cooling techniques. “In the new, revived datacentre, we are using free air cooling, which means we will not have to run expensive chiller and air-conditioning units,” says Apps.
The Dell servers are optimised to run at 27°C, allowing the IT team to rely on natural outside air temperature cooling. “It is just a couple of months in a year that we will need mechanical cooling, but at all other times we will use free cooling in our datacentre,” he says.
Following the upgrade of the Heathrow datacentre, the IT team will update the two colocation facilities with similar specifications.
“The new infrastructure will give us a robust and secure IT infrastructure that is resilient and flexible, as well as cost-effective,” says Apps. The IT team has signed a five-year contract with Dell as part of the datacentre refresh project.
“If cloud becomes a more attractive and viable solution for us at a later date, we will move to the cloud, but until then our in-house datacentre will help us deliver cost savings, IT efficiency, meet bring-your-own-device demands and grow the business,” says Apps.