Webjet takes off with virtualisation

Server sprawl cost blowout averted.

Webjet has turned to virtualising its servers to help slash maintenance costs and provide a four-times increase in availability.

The online travel company serves 20,000 customers a month and combines travel expenses including hotel, car, and insurance costs into a single itinerary.

It uses a Content Management System (CMS), dubbed the Travel Services Aggregator, to draw global product and sales information from airlines and accommodation providers.

Webjet executive consultant, Peter Burton, said its server sprawl increased IT expend and cost it time and money on deployment and maintenance.

"We had five servers in 2004: two dedicated to production and two to applications, and had 15 by 2006," Burton said.

"Our CFO was concerned that is was getting out of hand [because] it took months to procure a new server a get it up and running."

Then came the epiphany.

"We doubled our processing capacity for about 10 percent of the cost by virtualising the 15 servers; needless to say our CFO was pleased."

The company finished virtualising its servers in May last year following advice from Macquarie Hosting which houses and maintains the systems.

Since then, three Hewlett Packard DL585 servers have been installed and virtualised to replace the 15 existing systems.

The company maintains a small network using five of the original servers which are used for application development and testing, and will eventually be virtualised and brought into the primary fleet.

Burton said the deployment, using VMWare, did not require any downtime to the company's 24x7 service, and avoided customer disruption. He said the data centre can now handle workload spikes caused by discount flight promotions where the number of Web site visitors can rise four-fold in under an hour.

"Airlines often enter sales into their databases on Friday to kick off on Saturday. It's great for marketing but our user load has jumped from 3000 to 12000 in an hour, but the system handled it easily," he said.

Virtualising its servers had a further bonus. Webjet recently averted major customer disaster when it used the fail-over capabilities of its virtual servers to patch a machine that inadvertently installed a rougue Microsoft patch which incorrectly adjusted the clock for daylight savings.

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