George Best Belfast City Airport uses hyperconvergence to reach new heights in IT operations

Profile picture for user Mark Samuels By Mark Samuels November 2, 2021 Audio mode
Summary:
The organization is using Nutanix Enterprise Cloud and a host of related services to create a robust platform for digital transformation.

Belfast

George Best Belfast City Airport has halved its IT operational costs and provided a platform for data-led business transformation by migrating its legacy technology infrastructure to Nutanix Enterprise Cloud.

Brian Roche, Director of Information Technology at George Best Belfast City Airport, has overseen the switch and is now thinking about how he will use the hyper-converged infrastructure to deliver new customer-focused services.

Roche joined the airport in November 2019 and inherited a legacy IT infrastructure that was reaching the end of its life. He was tasked with defining a new infrastructure strategy for the business and recognised the organization would need to rethink the way its IT was delivered, managed and protected.

Having worked with hyperconverged technologies for the past decade in some of his previous IT leadership roles, Roche believed hyperconvergence would provide the most robust platform for infrastructural change. Following a tendering process, he selected Nutanix and implementation partner Leaf IT to deliver this platform:

We previously had a managed-service model, with an onsite resource support package. And it wasn’t delivering the value for money it should have. I went to tender and basically, said ‘here's my vision for what we need to be able to do’. We got five responses and Leaf IT with Nutanix came through as a very strong winner.

Cloudy 

One alternative approach to hyperconvergence would have been for the airport to move fully to the cloud. However, Roche looked at the profile of the organization’s applications, and the nature of its workloads, and worked out that going fully to the cloud would have cost twice as much as going down the hyperconverged route:

The workloads that we have in the airport, which are fairly static and don’t involve a lot of changes, are more often about integration between business partners in the airport and the flow of information rather than high-transactional workloads. For those steady workloads, an on-premise solution is usually better – but what you also get with Nutanix is the on-prem performance and low costs, and you still have the cloud-like operating model, where you can pay for the services you consume.

The airport implemented two Nutanix Enterprise Cloud clusters in March 2021, with each running the Nutanix AHV hypervisor. Roche says the benefits of the implementation became clear quickly. Not only could Nutanix’s hyperconverged approach deal with the organization’s existing production requirements at half the cost, the airport was also able to use the partnership to place business continuity onsite and cloud-based disaster recovery offsite:

To do all of that for half the price of a traditional three-tier infrastructure was amazing. We can now provision the virtual machines and their capabilities and applications as we need, rather than having to spend a lot of time doing provisioning across three different tiers of technology and then interlinking them. Using Nutanix means the hard work is all done already.

The Nutanix installation involved no disruption to airport services. The implementation, including the migration of 16TB of data and 56 virtual workloads, was completed quickly and easily, with much of the hard lifting being undertaken by Nutanix Move, which is a specialist migration tool:

It was about a week to 10 days from the kit arriving on site to having a production platform ready to go. Part of the reason why it was 10 days was because we had other stuff to deal with as well in the IT department – and I reckon we could have built it and completed the whole implementation in two days. Following the implementation, the full migration for all the key IT systems was done within three weeks.

Benefits

As well as being robust and scalable, Roche says one of the big benefits of the Nutanix hyperconverged technology is that data is held internally. Pushing data to external cloud providers is a big challenge for the airport, which operates in a heavily regulated sector, notes Roche:

There’s just some stuff that, due to regulation and compliance, we're not allowed to have on the cloud and it has to be stored and then used in a secure environment.

As well as helping to halve the airport’s IT operational costs, Roche says the move to Nutanix has provided a way to deal with IT staffing concerns. As part of the migration process, the organization adopted Prism Central, Nutanix’s centralized management interface. This technology has allowed the airport to move from a reliance on a costly managed-service model to in-house management. Roche says Prism Central makes it easy for anyone in the airport’s IT team to provision new virtual machines, processors and storage across both of its Enterprise Cloud clusters on-demand:

I knew that I wasn’t going to have to hire very specialist resource to manage the platform. I didn't need to have that level of complexity, whether it’s storage, networks or compute. My level-one and level-two engineers can do everything on Nutanix, with no assistance.

More generally, Roche has developed a five-year plan to deliver a data-led business transformation to the airport. The aim is to use systems and services to boost the operational efficiencies of the airport and to improve the flow of passengers around the airport. He expects to make full use of Apache Spark data analytics technology and is planning to build a secure 5G private network to automate baggage handling, passenger movements and other tasks across the airport site. Roche says the hyper-converged IT infrastructure will help the IT team to deliver stable business transformation in the longer term:

It’s running without a blip. It’s one of the elements of IT that doesn’t keep me awake at night. I just see the benefits of the platform, such as the ease of use, the vision of Nutanix being very strong around designing for the cloud, and what they're going to be doing in the future in terms of analytics. The performance that you can deliver from their platform to the rest of the business is really good. When you have a hyper-converged platform, it's one of those things that you know is just going to work. It’s all in one box and it’s monitored, but you still get that cloud-like experience.