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No cloud storage for Belfast City Airport in Nutanix hyper-converged switch

George Best Belfast City Airport ditches ageing Dell iSCSI SAN for Nutanix HCI for half the price of nearest contender, and gets DR site into the bargain. Cloud storage was a no-go for cost reasons

Belfast City Airport has made the switch to hyper-converged infrastructure from Nutanix to replace an end-of-life existing server-storage setup based on Dell SAN hardware.

In the process, the airport – named after Northern Ireland football legend George Best – cut operating costs by 40% with a compute-storage solution that was half the price of the nearest competitor in its tender process. At the same time, for this cost, the airport was able to equip a secondary business continuity site on its campus.

Hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI) marries server, storage and usually a virtualisation hypervisor in hardware nodes that can be built into clusters. In some cases – such as with Nutanix – it is possible to scale compute and storage independently to some extent.

HCI has been one of the rising stars of the datacentre over the past few years, especially because of its cost savings over traditional hardware architectures, as well as ease of deployment and maintenance.

Previously, the airport ran a “traditional three-tier infrastructure”, with storage based around Dell EqualLogic iSCSI SANs, said the airport’s IT director, Brian Roche.

“It was reaching end-of-life and we were risking our crown jewels,” he said. “We were beginning to see issues and so we accelerated the change to our entire IT infrastructure and support operations model.

“Previously, everything was completely outsourced, and with a considerable bill. We wanted to get some efficiencies back and went to market for new solutions.”

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Only one response to the airport’s tender offered a hyper-converged solution, and the pricing difference was “huge” between that one HCI-led offer and the remaining three-tier solutions on offer.

Nutanix was deployed for all core systems at the airport, using Dell hardware with around 20TB in total storage capacity to support nearly 60 applications. And, for the money spent, this provided enough hardware to support business continuity on the same campus as the production system.

For the time being, the currently Oracle-based Airline Operations Database will not migrate to Nutanix, but that is planned for a shift to MongoDB in 2022 – to avoid licensing costs resulting from Oracle on Nutanix, whereas none will be incurred with the proposed solution.

“There are a number of applications that have to be on-premise for compliance and governance reasons,” said Roche. “Also, because the applications are very static – with very little in terms of uploads and downloads – they’re just not suited to the cloud. Cloud would be double the cost. Pay-as-you-consume with big fluctuations is much better value in the cloud than static workloads.”

Overall, the airport reduced operating costs by 40%, with a solution that was 50% cheaper than the next in the tender. A big chunk of this was achieved by avoiding the so-called “VM tax” – paying for VMware virtualisation environment license fees – and instead using Nutanix’s AHV hypervisor. “These days, a hypervisor is a hypervisor,” he said.

What were the key benefits for the airport? “We’ve enhanced our production and business continuity for half the price,” said Roche. “It’s really easy to use. It just works, and doesn’t keep me awake at night.”

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