SkyCity rebuilds datacentre, virtualises desktops

Blades and new cooling cut power costs and boost capacity

As a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation any IT downtime at SkyCity can have a direct effect on the business.

And that can make IT change very difficult indeed. So when the casino and entertainment business operator came to totally rebuild its datacentre, the project required careful planning.

SkyCity was driven to the datacentre upgrade by a lack of capacity and the age of the air-conditioning system used to cool its facilities. A “rip and replace” of the air-conditioning in the operating room was far too difficult, so instead SkyCity CIO Mike Clarke opted to build a new facility.

Also on the roadmap was both server and desktop virtualisation.

Clarke says he looked at external hosting as one solution to the capacity problems, but rejected that option for reasons of governance and the simple practicality of having the datacentre within easy reach.

He says while he is aware of all the theories about lights-out management, “in the real world, there’s a benefit to local hosting”.

To move servers off-site would also require rock-solid communications, he says, with preferably a direct fibre link, but that was not an option.

The major change in the new $300,000 datacentre is a move from cooling the entire room to cooling just the APC racks the servers sit in, a green and efficient way of managing server temperatures, Clarke says.

Uninterruptible power supplies were also replaced with more efficient units, also from APC, he says.

Both the cost of the air-conditioning plant and the power to cool the facility have been substantially reduced, he says.

SkyCity is a Microsoft and HP shop running windows and HP-UX. As part of the project 46 servers were decommissioned through virtualisation, reducing the number of servers from around 150 to just over 100.

The hardware was also upgraded to blades for better power consumption and greater flexibility.

SkyCity does not use Microsoft’s Hyper V virtualisation, however, opting for VMware.

“We really like what Hyper V can do, but we’re not ready for it yet.”

Clarke says the 24x7 challenge was the greatest hurdle the project faced. “Most changes had to be made live,” he says. “That required a lot more work and preparation to ensure we were completely ready to go.”

SkyCity now has two facilities at different ends of the Auckland complex and offsite capability at its other businesses for disaster recovery. SkyCity is on the point of rolling out virtualised desktops using Microsoft’s Desktop Optimisation Pack (MDOP), a first in New Zealand, Clarke says.

MDOP delivers asset, policy and licence management, as well as application and desktop virtualisation. “It’s really, really good technology,” he says.

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