Lyttelton Port targets virtualisation for DR, consolidation

The technology is making the port more efficient, IT manager says

Lyttelton Port of Christchurch (LPC) has turned to virtualisation for cost-effective disaster recovery and hardware consolidation.

The port, employing 400 staff, operates 24/7, receives around 200,000 containers a year, and uses a variety of IT systems such as computerised tracking, automated gates and electronic data interchange to document containers.

Thus, the business needs reliable data storage and disaster recovery — something it did not have until last year. Previously, the port used internal disks backed up to direct-attached tape drives. But this was a time-consuming process and meant it would still take weeks to recover from a disaster.

“We had multiple single points of failure and risk,” explains IT manager Darrin Bain.

In 2005 LPC approached Gen-i about improving its disaster recovery capability, consolidating hardware to reduce costs, and integrating operations to handle a new container management system.

Gen-i and LPC developed a disaster recovery plan and the end of a three-year hardware refresh cycle also allowed a rethink on server architecture.

Bain says it became clear the port needed to separate its storage and processing functions and mirror both at a second site, but having more than 30 servers at each site would cost too much.

Instead, Gen-i installed EMC Clariion CX500 storage systems into two datacentres at each side of the port, joined by fibre-optic connections. EMC Mirrorview was installed to replicate data between the two sites, with EMC Snapview software allowing local copies of data for testing, back-up and recovery.

Gen-i also almost replaced all the server farm with eight HP blade servers — four at each site — using VMware ESX Virtual Infrastructure technology to consolidate the server farm into a single pool of server resources and reduce the total number of physical servers. LPC’s applications were then migrated to the new server environment.

Bain says its was a challenge upgrading and standardising servers to Windows 2003 but the new virtual environment hardware allows them to “fail over” or “roll-back”. Lost data can also be recovered in minutes from the other site.

“Virtualisation has dramatically reduced our operating costs as the VMware tools allows us to manage servers and create new servers, while freeing up hardware. We can also perform some work that could only be done outside operating hours,” he says.

The model was then extended to handle the acquisition of a container depot company, and allowed seamless integration of IT systems. Now, LPC plans to incorporate the company’s finance and asset management programs into the virtual environment.

Bain credits a ‘whole-of-site’ rather than piecemeal approach for project success, along with “having a partner to guide you through the process”.

Gen-i senior technical consultant Peter Brook says virtualisation allows firms to reduce their physical hardware, while increasing the general availability of systems.

“It makes IT hardware a commodity. It abstracts the Windows operating system from the physical hardware,” Brook says.

As early adopters of VMware, Port staff had to get their head around the new system, but a virtual environment makes it easy to install new virtual servers.

“They experienced 100% growth in 12-18 months. We call that virtual server sprawl, but they did not need to go through the process of ordering other servers,” Brook says.

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Tags disaster recoveryvirtualisationSpecial IDlyttelton port

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