Brisbane Airport ditches IBM for Cisco's UCS

After virtualisation, Brisbane Airport continued to look for cost savings, deciding it was time to splurge on new servers.

Four years ago, Brisbane Airport Corporation started a virtualisation journey that saw it move from 70 servers down to 12 — but it found that it could still improve on this.

The company implemented VMware's ESX to achieve its consolidation down to 12 IBM X-series servers.

However, with a new airport operational database application (which, for example, keeps track of what gates flights are directed to) and CCTV cameras, and with business intelligence, data warehouse and backup services using more and more data, the company decided to review its computer set-up.

Because of the way the airport is financially set up — it's heavily capital expenditure based, liking to own its assets — it is always looking for ways to save on operational expenditure.

"We have some challenges around minimising costs, so we look at ways to minimise costs within technology in the IT group," Brisbane Airport Corporation technology manager Stephen Tukavkin said.

These cost pressures, and a desire to reduce the airport's datacentre footprint because the IBM kit was maxing out the rack capacity in the datacentre, saw Tukavkin turn to blade servers.

"We were using rack-mountable technology, and we wanted to reduce the footprint in our datacentre," Tukavkin said.

"The obvious choice was to go down the blade technology path."

Brisbane Airport looked at getting products from the incumbent provider, IBM, and from HP and Cisco.

In the end, it was the management services that won the day for Cisco. Brisbane Airport decided this year to deploy a private cloud based on Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS), an EMC VNX storage platform and a vSphere hypervisor to be used in conjunction with its existing MPLS network and Cisco switches.

"The centralised management capabilities are built in to the product, both in the hardware and firmware," Tukavkin said.

That helped his team to manage the environment from one console, instead of having to use separate tools as it had in the past. Given that the company has 30 projects on the go and 60 in the pipeline, this simplified matters.

The implementation has also cut the 12 servers down to five, which has seen energy consumption and cooling costs fall by about 20 per cent.

The number of servers will, however, increase, when Brisbane Airport implements a virtual desktop interface. Tukavkin wouldn't say much about it, except that it would be running on the same UCS infrastructure, and that the airport has already secured the budget for the implementation.

When asked about return on investment for the UCS implementation, Tukavkin couldn't name figures, saying that while there are numbers for the first phase of virtualisation — when the company was replacing physical servers with virtual ones — the operational efficiencies from the management systems were hard to quantify.

"It's not an apples-for-apples comparison with one physical server and a blade server now; it's more about the management costs of managing the virtualisation compute layer," he said.

"It's hard to articulate."

The company is about 80 per cent virtualised, Tukavkin said. It is working on making sure that the final 20 per cent of applications are compatible with vSphere, before moving them onto the new platform.

Although the airport calls its new platform a private cloud, it doesn't support self-service provisioning, which Tukavkin said is a dangerous proposition.

"We haven't thought about going down that path just yet," he said. "We want some control."

Although he thinks that this private cloud has laid the basis for a future hybrid cloud model that might draw on cloud products from Telstra or Optus in the future, Tukavkin said it is unlikely that the airport will draw on such services in the near future, because of its focus on capital expenditure.