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Belfast City Airport: Most apps in the cloud by 2031

George Best Belfast City Airport has already achieved 50/50 cloud and on-premise working, with 80% of workloads expected to be cloud-based in the next decade. We look at what hybrid cloud means in practice

Belfast City Airport has achieved a ratio of about 50/50 when it comes to cloud and on-premise working, with the cloud coming to dominate over the next decade.

That’s according to the airport’s IT director, Brian Roche, who spoke to Computer Weekly this week.

He estimates that ratio could be more like 80/20 over the next five years or so, because while some workloads lend themselves more easily to transitioning to the cloud, others don’t.

Airports are complex IT environments with huge amounts of integration between applications and providers and partners. “We have 45 partners on-site and about 600 applications,” said Roche.

And it’s possible to categorise those applications in terms of suitability as a cloud workload.

There are those workloads, for example, that are easily consumed in software-as-a-service form.

Some applications in this category are delivered purely from the cloud, such as Salesforce and Docusign. Roche will “use software-as-a-service where possible”, he said. “For us, it’s not really about cloud-first. It’s about the best value in terms of TCO and ROI on the best platform for the application.”

Cloud security and compliance

Elsewhere – in cyber security, for example – the airport is a customer of Qualys for cloud security and compliance, and IBM Qradar for threat detection.

In some other cases, the airport runs parts of a workload in the cloud while retaining some elements in-house. This is hybrid cloud working in one sense of the term.

Here we have the airport operational database (AODB) – running on Airport Hive from Azinq – which is hybrid cloud in the sense that its core operations run on-site for reasons of reliability and security. But, when updates to its Oracle database are required, it can be backed up to the cloud for DR purposes and for testing in a cloud sandbox environment.

Similarly, the airport’s CCTV operations – via services delivered from Civica and using Sense AI for behaviour recognition – are also hybridised, in part for reasons of compliance. Here, all the original camera imagery is held on-site because of the identifiability of individual people, while anonymised AI-based processing can happen in the cloud.

Meanwhile, the possibility exists for more general workloads, such as those now hosted and stored on Nutanix hyper-converged infrastructure, to be burst out to the cloud if needed, although it’s more cost-effective to keep things on-site.

“We could have run the workloads now on Nutanix in the AWS or Azure clouds, but it’s about 50% cheaper to keep them on-site on HCI,” said Roche.

And while the capability to burst out to the Nutanix Xi cloud and add compute and/or storage is there, Roche said there had been “no requirement for it so far, but we can do it if we need to and it doesn’t take long to set up”. “Having said that, we use the cloud to host backups made with Veeam, so storage is on-site while there are copies held off-site to protect against ransomware,” said Roche.

Read more about hybrid cloud

Meanwhile, some applications will take more work to make cloud-ready in any sense. Here, we’re talking of airport-specific operations systems such as those that handle the baggage carousel or X-ray machines. These can have a lifetime of 15 to 30 years, compared with the typical IT stack component’s three, five or seven years, said Roche.

“These are legacy applications that can’t burst out to the cloud currently, and they are effectively ‘air-gapped’ from the internet, but we’d like to find ways to provide a virtualisation layer that potentially made them more portable,” he said.

So, the key for Belfast City Airport is to put the appropriate workload on the appropriate platform, of the appropriate value,” said Roche. “That’s different from a purely cost consideration, being based on total cost of ownership.”

“Right now we are about 50/50 in terms of cloud and on-premise workloads, with the ability to burst to the cloud and hybrid working. In five or 10 years I would expect that to be more like 80/20, with most of the barriers being legacy and the longevity of the technology. A new baggage carousel costs £15m to £20m, for example.”

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