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» Enterprise IT Planet » Networking » Networking Features

Sabre Holdings Embraces Cloud Computing

By Drew Robb
December 15, 2010

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Have you seen the roaming gnome that is featured on those Travelocity TV ads for airline and holiday deals? Well, he’s now a big fan of VMware.

Sabre Holdings, the parent company of Travelocity, had adopted cloud computing in a big way. It operates a single cloud-based data center on a 24/7 basis to facilitate its global network of developers. This has enabled it to achieve a ratio of 25 virtual machines (VM) for every physical server.

As a result, the company has greatly sped up the provisioning process via a self-service portal. IT is freed up to work on more strategic tasks as opposed to manually cobbling together the various elements required to bring a physical server online.

“The portal provides a self-service capability directly to our developers who can then create their own VMs from a choice of approved catalog items,” said Glenn Harper, chief infrastructure architectures at Sabre Holdings. “This helps to offloads common tasks from our operations team.”

Traveling to the Cloud

Sabre Holdings built the first computer reservations system in the 1960s, and was one of the leading lights in the online travel business that sprung up in the late 1990s. Today, it merchandises and retails travel products, as well as providing distribution/technology solutions for the travel industry. It supports travelers, travel agents, corporations and travel suppliers around the world through its four companies: Sabre Travel Network, Sabre Airline Solutions, Sabre Hospitality Solutions and its best known brand, Travelocity.

Based in Southlake, Texas, the company has more employees spread around the world than it has at headquarters in the USA. Harper said that the company has staff (primarily developers) operating in Poland, Argentina, Uruguay, India, Iceland, the Philippines and in the UK.

To facilitate rapid global operations, the organization prefers a centralized IT model as opposed to having to establish many data centers around the globe. To offer round the clock service while keeping costs down, the best way forward was via virtualization.

“We have a virtualization first policy,” said Harper. What he means is that the company always looks to virtualize an application or a new system.

For instance, Sabre Holdings decided to erect a virtual data center that a multitude of developers could access regardless of their location.

The basic building blocks of the virtual data center are the NetApp 3000 Series appliances for storage, HP BladeSystem servers and Oracle 11g Real Application Clusters (RAC). NetApp FAS3160 Network Attached Storage (NAS) boxes provide the bulk of storage. They each have a maximum capacity of 672 TB, with up to 672 disks (Fibre Channel or SATA) and 16 GB of memory.

HP blades provide a converged infrastructure architecture that facilitates the move to the cloud. It maximize power efficiency, and eliminates much of the wiring and connectivity components through centralization. Oracle RAC is a cluster database with a shared cache architecture to provide scalability and high availability. It is a key component of Oracle's private cloud architecture.

Even with all this in place, however, virtual server provisioning was a slow affair. This acted as a bottleneck on the global developer workforce and slowed the pace of their work.

“We utilized a manual and slow process to provide a VM to a developer,” said Harper.

Things came to a head with the development of a complex application known as Sabre Revenue Integrity. This software makes sure that every potential seat is sold. Bad bookings are detected and made available again in real time.

Sabre Revenue Integrity receives bookings as soon as they are created or changed in the airline reservations system. It searches for potential quality problems and acts on such problems either by either challenging or canceling them, thereby releasing the seats for resale to other passengers.

To accomplish that, the company designed it as a three-tier application with separate tiers based on the Web, a java application and the Oracle database.

Sabre Holdings has adopted VMware vCloud Director as a means of resolving this issue. vCloud Director is software for building secure, multi-tenant private clouds. It does this by pooling and virtualizing infrastructure resources that users can access through Web-based portals.

The big benefit is the ability to provide automated, catalog-based services. Instead of technicians filing service desk tickets individually, developers can specify the elements of their own virtual data centers. Some need more processing power, others require a lot more RAM.

“Our developers can easily build multiple end-to-end versions of complex applications from one catalog,” said Harper.

vCloud Director lets developers choose how long they want a VM provisioned for – such as 10 days, 30 days, 90 days, etc. Once expired, these VMs and development environments get end-of-lifed.

Harper reports that provisioning now can be done in almost no time at all. “We use hard expiration dates to prevent virtual server sprawl,” said Harper. “If a VM expires and they want it again, they can get it again, only they are given a current version instead of a patched old version.”

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