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Responding to heavy demand in the airline industry for increased data storage, Bahrain-based Gulf Air has refreshed its storage and server farm hardware.

The company opted to implement a private cloud for its IT environment to meet its storage input/output operations per second (IOPS) requirements.

Jassim Haji Jassim, director of IT at Gulf Air, said this was a big challenge because upgrading the company’s core components, including storage, required a complete overhaul of its entire IT architecture.

New design requirements included upgrading the server farm’s hardware, scalable storage area network (SAN) and introducing application delivery control, he said.

“We did not just implement storage at hardware level, but for different layers – for applications, databases and full redundancy, including our disaster recovery (DR) centres in Bahrain and London,” he said.

It was a complex project, said Jassim. “It was a mix between full resilience and availability across all the platforms of not only application infrastructure, but databases,” he said. “It involved virtualising all storage to maximise the use of our storage infrastructure for the next five years.”

Heavy demand in the airline industry for generating data storage had made Gulf Air’s task urgent, he said. Because the airline business works 24 hours a day, the main challenge while implementing the project was to ensure zero downtime, he added.

Jassim explained how different teams in Gulf Air’s IT department had to synchronise their plans to minimise the impact on production systems while still meeting aggressive timelines. “Changing the entire storage architecture and infrastructure with zero downtime and having to balance it between the backup and main was very challenging,” he said. “The main success for us is that we had zero downtime and a smooth transition.”

Major limitations

Before implementing cloud, the network throughput of the company’s LAN had major limitations because it could not cater for the airline’s future needs. Other challenges were to improve the performance of applications and enhance storage availability and data resilience between multiple sites.

Before undertaking the project, Gulf Air used EMC Clarion and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) EVA storage systems in its datacentres.

A core infrastructure enhancement was the implementation in 2016 of a resilient storage system covering primary and secondary datacentres within Bahrain.

Jassim said that after refreshing its storage and server farm hardware, Gulf Air now has the required IOPS for its applications and databases. “The performance of business applications has been improved drastically by implementing FAST storage virtualisation technology from Dell EMC,” he said.

Auto-tiering technology has been improved to help the company meet its applications’ IOPS demands. “This has reduced the amount of investment required to dedicate a specific type of disk for applications’ IOPS,” he said. The performance of applications has also been boosted by the implementation of the latest SAN virtualisation technology (auto-tiering) and compressing data using deduplication, he added.

Maintain resilience

Jassim said two storage units in the company’s primary site had been replicated to maintain resilience. A third storage unit had been deployed in its secondary site to replicate the main and critical applications between the two sites using Recoverpoint technology, he said.

“The solution was designed by our IT teams and has been endorsed and implemented by our partner, Dell EMC,” he said. “We have also introduced data archiving, customised to meet our retention policy.”

Jassim said that in addition to the storage units, Gulf Air had developed a storage business intelligence (BI) portal to manage the storage and data retention baseline for each application.

He said Gulf Air had not invited suppliers to undertake a proof of concept (PoC). “We usually go for the technology leaders,” he said. “The solution was designed by Gulf Air’s architecture team members, who have knowledge of what we have. We didn’t ask suppliers to do any PoC because we know what we want and what our requirements are to support business growth.”

The airline has achieved savings since the implementation, said Jassim. “Upgrading the Dell EMC enterprise storage solution and replacing the enterprise back solution has reduced operating costs by up to 50% in some areas.”

Future growth

The new set-up has also provided scalability to allow for future growth of data in the company’s cloud. “Also, Gulf Air has avoided the extra investment needed to introduce data archiving to satisfy the company’s retention policy by leveraging the enterprise backup solution features,” he said. This has also helped to reduce the carrier’s operational costs by deduplicating information at source, and the ability to meet the demands of storage-hungry applications.

Jassim said Gulf Air had achieved full optimisation and scalability, enabling automated on-demand services to address the business’s ever-changing requirements.

With Dell EMC installations for storage, replication and resilience at the company’s three datacentres – at the primary site, secondary site and DR site – the performance of Gulf Air’s services has been boosted with flash disk arrays and the optimisation benefits of auto-tiering technology. Jassim said the replication technology and site resilience had enabled the company to provide high availability to its business, achieving 99.99% uptime.

As the market shifts towards hyper-converged and converged infrastructures combining server, storage and networking products, Gulf Air is exploring the possibilities of these new technologies. “We are currently studying this approach and are yet to decide because the investment we have made on storage and resilience is huge. However, this is something Gulf Air is potentially looking for,” said Jassim.

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