Virtuoso travel network picks Liquid Computing for data center

HP and Cisco, while larger, didn't have the lower costs, experience and customer touch

Virtuoso Ltd., an online network for luxury travel, recently chose a unified computing infrastructure from Liquid Computing instead of shopping for such technology from larger vendors, such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Cisco Systems Inc.

"What made Liquid stand out was they had a background in the telecom industry and knew about [network] reliability," said Joel Chaplin, CIO for Virtuoso, in an interview. The company is based in Fort Worth, Texas, and has a data center in Seattle.

Virtuoso last year was researching ways to virtualize its data center, partly to prepare to increase its number of member users by 10 times in the next few years.

Today, about 300 travel agencies with 6,000 travel specialists pay a membership fee to Virtuoso to use its network to match travel customers with a variety of tour suppliers for a range of exotic and luxury vacations.

"We needed a platform that would scale with the company as it grew, yet be more efficient and lower operating costs," Chaplin said. "We're a lean company with technology and don't have a lot of administrators, so it also had to be something easy to administer and deploy."

When the upgrade was first considered last year, Virtuoso had a "mish-mash of servers, including dozens of HP servers" and considered using HP for unified computing. Instead, it discovered Liquid, Chaplin said.

"We knew the price point of Liquid would be lower than HP," he said. Cisco was expected to have a unified computing platform, but hadn't developed anything concrete, he added. Cisco's approach is only now rolling out to customers.

As it was, Virtuoso's investment with Liquid, based in Stamford, Conn., was less than $1 million, "still a big investment for us," Chaplin said. The company installed a LiquidIQ unified computing system for hosting its Web-based services for its travel network.

Liquid calls LiquidIQ a "data center in a chassis" because it can integrate with NetApp Inc. to replace an assortment of server, network, storage and virtualization technologies. Virtuoso installed the first chassis in February, which went live in April, and expects to install a second chassis in the fall.

The changeover means that Virtuoso is on target to reduce its data center costs by 80%, with a smaller physical space, less power consumption and reduced administrative overhead. Already, a staff of five administrators has been reduced to two, he said.

The data center supports a sophisticated search engine that gives travel agents the ability to find suppliers for customized luxury vacations.

In addition to the expected savings with Liquid, and its background in telecom, Virtuoso found it could work easily with a smaller supplier.

"Liquid has paid attention to servicing our needs, and I could have gone with HP but there's no way I could call them up as often as I did," Chaplin said.

Analyst Zeus Kerravala of Yankee Group Inc. said Liquid's reputation is solid, even though he regards the vendor as a start-up with only a handful of announced customers for LiquidIQ.

"The technology from Liquid is more mature than Cisco has, and they've been selling it longer," Kerravala said. "HP's basically got a management front end, which isn't really the same."

The only worry with working with Liquid, like many smaller vendors, is their longevity, Kerravala added. "Liquid is an acquisition candidate for Juniper Networks, or IBM or even HP," he said.

"The worry with using them would be if they went away. But as a start-up, there's no immediate harm in using their technology, and the benefit is that they can completely customize the product for a new customer."

Kerravala said Virtuoso's claim of an 80% reduction in space and power consumption is "completely believable ... unified computing is the next big trend in computing."

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