Visa leans on virtualization to transform data centers

Visa looking to replicate data center success across globe

Visa is looking for a few good people to run its next-generation data centers.

In July, the electronic payments company posted a job listing on the Data Center Job Board for a senior facilities engineer in Virginia to ensure the smooth operation and launch of new state-of-the-art data centers.

Visa is looking to mimic the 2006 launch of its Operations Center Central (OCC) processing facility in Denver in other data centers around the globe. Visa is pushing the envelope of virtualization in that facility and two others in different locations.

"OCC is an ongoing project," says Andy Lewis, Visa's head of global engineering at the Denver OCC. "Just as we complete one aspect of it there's going to be something else that comes along that is a further enabler to reduce costs and increase reliability and availability, while managing risk at the same time. Is there ever an end state?"

Its business would say no. Visa's 1.6 billion global card-holders account for more than US$3 trillion in annual transaction volume, which is growing at a 20 percent per-year clip. VisaNet, the company's global network, serves as the backbone for roughly one-seventh of American consumer expenditure.

Each OCC data center will handle more than US$1 trillion in annual transaction volume and according to Visa was designed to meet the growing volume of electronic credit, debit and prepaid transactions for the foreseeable future. Network, server and storage virtualization are key to enabling that.

The OCCs run a single synchronized image of transaction processing around the globe. And each OCC runs multiple instances -- or virtual images -- of that single image within the data center. This gives Visa "redundancy within redundancy" for credit or debit authorization, and the ability to failover to another data center as well as internally within a data center: Visa engineers at an OCC can manage another data center thousands of miles away connected over the company's VisaNet global payments network.

Virtualization has also helped Visa manage costs. By allocating or replicating processing cycles logically, Visa's IT budget went up only 3 or 4 percent, and unit costs were cut by about 50 percent between 2000 and 2007, as transactions grew at that 20 percent annual clip, CIO Michael Dreyer said at Cisco conference last summer.

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