Port shores up IT with virtualisation

'Event' spurs shift to VMware at Ports of Auckland

Three years ago, whenever Ports of Auckland needed a new server, it bought two — one for its production environment and one for a nearby backup datacentre.

There were roughly 40 servers in each and any restore had to happen from tape backups, which took several hours and could be several hours behind, meaning some data would be lost, says IT operations manager Darren Wiseman, speaking at a VMware briefing in Auckland today.

Wiseman joined the port three years ago and only had to wait two months to see this system in action. An "event" occured taking down one application that was not considered mission critical.

When increasingly agitated stevedores began arriving in his office, it became apparent just how reliant the port was on that application: email. All of the loading and unloading plans for ships in port were transmitted that way. Without these, ships were sitting idle and that was costing the port and shipping companies money.

Wiseman and his team decided the several hours needed to restore operations were "not good enough" and that led them to adopt VMware 2.51 for both of its datacentres. One of these was largely a production environment and the other used for development.

Wiseman says now dynamic resource scheduling happens all the time, with the port seeing its computing resources as a pool and able to reconfigure the allocation of these resources with ease.

"Servers slide from one resource to the next all the time," he says. "From a DR [disaster recovery] perspective there's a great deal of comfort."

The port runs a range of operating systems and applications including Windows, Solaris,and Linux OSs and Exchange Server and ActiveDirectory, Peoplesoft and Oracle.

Wiseman says the PeopleSoft HR system is reaching the end of its life and will be replaced. It does not support virtualisation in its current form and nor does an equally old Oracle database.

The port now has a directive that any new applications must support virtual deployment, he says.

One complaint often thrown at virtualisation is server "bloat" or "sprawl", but Wiseman says he doesn't care about that. In fact, it can make administration easier. Every new application gets its own virtual box, allowing tasks such as patching to take place in their own time and without impact on other applications, he says.

"The product is really cool and has made our lives at Ports of Auckland a lot more peaceful," he says.

Paul Harapin, managing director of VMware Australia and NZ, says Microsoft, which is now attacking the virtualisation space, is trying to do what VMware did in 2001 — develop a hypervisor. He says this is just the wheels of the car. Much of the value in VMware now is in the capabilities built on top of that, such as dynamic resource scheduling.

Wiseman says for him VMotion, which allows virtual machines to be migrated with zero downtime according to VMware, is the "killer app" of the technology.

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