In anticipation of the quickly approaching holidays, vacation tour company Transat A.T. Inc. has revamped its back-end computing infrastructure to avoid any potential turbulence during the winter travel season.
Transat has upgraded the servers that run its main reservations system—replacing Sun Microsystems Inc. Sun Fire 6500 servers with Sun Fire 6900 servers. The new servers, equipped with UltraSPARC IV processors, will allow Transat to not only free up space in its data center but also get a handle on power concerns, said François Guillemette, technology architect of information systems at Transat, in Montreal.
The new systems will also provide a platform that can grow as Transats computing needs increase. The company will add recently released UltraSPARC IV+ processors to its Sun Fire 6900 servers after the holiday season. By doing so, the company expects to gain as much as twice the performance from those machines, Guillemette said.
“Our computer rooms are near capacity, and replacing the older systems with the new ones will give us some breathing room for electricity and heat dissipation,” Guillemette said. “The new technology allows us to buy time before we have to upgrade our room infrastructure.”
Time to move on
Transat is one of Canadas largest vacation tour companies, focused on the organization, marketing and distribution of holiday travel packages. Through its subsidiaries, the company operates several Canadian and European tour companies and travel agencies. Transat is also the parent company of Air Transat airline.
Last year, Transat decided it was time to upgrade the systems running its core travel reservations application, Accovia Inc.s Logitours. The systems, three Sun Fire 6500 servers, needed to be phased out because their power consumption, maintenance and general overhead were becoming increasingly cost-prohibitive.
With the Sun Fire 6500 servers already running at about 100 percent of their capacity—and expected to hit 150 percent of their capacity during the holiday season—Transat IT staffers knew they needed to bring in an infrastructure that the company could grow into—and fast.
During the process of evaluating different server solutions, Guillemette and François Babin, a senior administrator of Unix systems at Transat, had several criteria but one main objective—to increase the performance and overall capacity by enough to sustain the companys transaction load for the next three years. Guillemettes and Babins projections were based on data from previous years that showed the organizations transaction load growing by 20 percent per year.
At the same time, the duo wanted to reduce the footprint in the data center to avoid having to purchase a digital cooling system and an upgrade of the UPSes (uninterruptible power supplies) in their computer room. They also wanted to reduce the number of CPUs in their data center, from 117 to fewer than 40, to save on licensing costs—specifically, for the IBM Informix database that stores data for the reservations system.
Earlier this year, Guillemette and Babin sat down with representatives from Sun and Accovia and determined that they would be able to decrease the number of CPUs in the data center to about 60 by replacing the Sun Fire 6500s with Sun Fire 6900s. Guillemette and Babin estimated that they will be able to further reduce the number of CPUs to 40 by their May 2006 deadline by adding the UltraSPARC IV+ chips to their new servers.
Vacation from overload
Last month, Transat replaced the Sun Fire 6500s with the two Sun Fire 6900s in the production environment.
Once the peak holiday season is over, in January, the company will re-evaluate its performance and capacity needs and decide whether to upgrade all processors to the new UltraSPARC IV+ chips or to run a mix of UltraSPARC IV+ and UltraSPARC IV chips. Because the server architecture supports different types of chips on the same system, few adjustments will have to be made if Transat does go the hybrid route.
“The investment we have right now will be maintained, and when we add more capacity to our systems, well simply add twice as much power without increasing our licensing costs,” Guillemette said. “This is of direct financial benefit to us because there is no forklift upgrade—we can just keep on adding new technology.”
Guillemette and Babin are now beta testing a Sun Fire V890 server with the UltraSPARC IV+ chip and are using the test results to gauge performance in their specific environment. So far, Guillemette and Babin said that they have been happy with the performance.
To ensure that the UltraSPARC IV+-based server would fit well in the Transat production computing environment—and that upgrades would not disrupt operations—Guillemette and Babin deployed the V890 server in a test environment. Once the system was up, they configured the database and reservations application on the server to test their functionality.
In benchmarking tests, the V890 server with UltraSPARC IV+ was able to conduct transactions in about half the time it took the Sun Fire 6900 servers with the UltraSPARC IV to finish the same job. “Sun says the UltraSPARC IV+ will provide twice the performance of the UltraSPARC IV, and were getting close to that,” Guillemette said. “In a compute-intensive environment, it seems we would get that kind of performance.”
Guillemette said he hopes to upgrade in the near future from Solaris 9 to Solaris 10 to take advantage of the newer operating systems performance increases. The Logitours application is not yet certified for Solaris 10, and Guillemette said Accovia may be asked to participate with Transat in the certification process. In the meantime, Transat is planning to migrate its Informix database servers onto Solaris 10 as soon as the IBM application is fully certified.
“The initial configuration of the 6900s will satisfy our needs for this year, and when peak season is over, we will simply order additional CPUs and add them into the same box,” Guillemette said. “The 6900 servers with UltraSPARC IV+ will last at least three years in our environment if the load continues to grow by about 20 percent a year.”
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be contacted at email@example.com.
Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.
- Company Transat A.T.
- Location Montreal
- Challenge In anticipation of the companys growth in holiday travel services and to provide customers with enhanced reservation services, Transat wants to increase system performance with an upgrade to its back-end servers
- Solution Transat is testing a Sun Fire V890 with a Sun UltraSPARC IV+ processor; the company will upgrade its back-end users to two Sun Fire 6900 servers and five Sun Fire V240 servers to improve performance while keeping licensing costs in check
- Tools Sun Fire 6900, Sun Fire V240, Sun Fire V890, and Solaris 9 and 10; IBMs Informix database; Accovias Logitours
- Whats next After the holiday season, Transat will add UltraSPARC IV+ processors to its Sun Fire 6900 servers to further increase performance and handle additional growth; the company will also migrate some applications to Solaris 10
Source: eWEEK Reporting