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Hardware Today: America West Flies Fujitsu Servers

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Jul 25, 2005


Several years ago, America West Airlines of Tempe, Ariz. encountered significant reliability issues with its (now discontinued) SPARC-processor-based Sun Enterprise 10000 (E10K) servers running the Solaris operating system. As these servers hosted mission-critical applications, including the revenue management system, the IS department decided it was time for a change. The company migrated its Solaris applications from Sun hardware to Fujitsu Primepower servers.

Reliability and mission-critical systems go hand in hand — especially for an airline. Several years ago, America West took flight looking for a more reliable and cost-effective server infrastructure. It touched down on Fujitsu's landing strip.

Result: Greatly improved reliability and a double-digit reduction in maintenance costs.

"With Primepower, we now have more horsepower at a lower cost and with high reliability," says America West CIO Joe Beery. "After over two years of use, we have not experienced any problems with these servers.

Merger Mania

After a few years of market caution, a distinct uptick in mergers occurred in 2004. The airline industry is no exception to this, and America West's pending merger with US Airways is one example. When complete, this merger will effectively create the first full-service nationwide low-cost airline servicing more than 200 cities across the United States, Canada, Mexico, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe.

"Reliability has gone from the mid-90s in some cases up to the 99.9 percent range. As a result, our maintenance costs have gone down more than 10 percent." — Joe Beery, America West CIO
Even without US Airways, however, America West is a $2 billion a year operation. Its 14,202 employees take care of 140 aircraft and 966 daily flights, making it the eighth largest airline. When the merger is complete, it will move into the number-five slot. Not surprisingly, the company requires a major IT infrastructure to keep things running. Its two Tempe data centers (one primary and one for for backup) contain 35 Fujitsu Primepower Solaris servers and about 340 Windows servers.

According to Beery, the software is really the driver. Thus, Internet and Web-based applications run on Wintel servers, human resources and payroll run on mainframes, and the midrange Unix platform is used for operational systems (e.g., time management, revenue management, and airline gating systems).

Until three years ago, all Unix applications ran on Sun hardware. Then, problems with the Sun E10K server forced the company to look elsewhere.

"Sun Solaris is a good, solid OS and we enjoy a good relationship with Sun, but the E10K would crash all of a sudden," says Beery. "We had lots of problems with those Sun servers and struggled with reliability."

America West evaluated HP, IBM, Fujitsu, and Sun alternatives. A move to HP hardware would have meant an expensive transition from Solaris to HP UX. Similarly, an IBM switch would have meant moving Unix apps from Solaris to AIX.

"The various Unix flavors are definitely not all the same," says Beery. "Many of our applications are dependent on Solaris, so we had to find hardware to match."

When America West investigated Fujitsu servers, it learned of the server vendor's strong alliance with Sun. The hardware's high Solaris compatibility and the Fujitsu chipset would give the airline plenty of room to grow.

"Further, no application porting was needed and that kept cost lower," says Beery. "We are a low-cost carrier so cost is extremely important."

Beery was also pleased with Primepower's solid reputation for reliability, which is attributable to its development team growing up from the mainframe.

In addition to expansion, the big adoption driver for more Primepower servers will be the US Airways merger. US Airways has traditionally preferred to outsource much of its IT infrastructure. That will change when it comes under America West's wing. America West plans to transfer many US Airways applications to a Fujitsu platform.

During the past two-plus years, the company replaced its entire Sun server farm with Fujitsu machines. The systems cover the spectrum of the Primepower line — from 450s with 1.1 GHZ SPARC64 processors in 1- to 4-way configurations, up to a cluster of four fully loaded Primepower 800 servers, which come with 2 to 16 processors and up to 128 GB of main memory. More recently, America West added some 650s to the mix. These are 8U rackmount units with one to eight SPARC64 processors (ranging from 1.89 GHz to 2.02 GHz), 256 Kb of Level 1 cache, and up to 64 GB of main memory.

Since implementing Fujitsu, reliability issues have become a thing of the past for America West.

"Reliability has gone from the mid-90s in some cases up to the 99.9 percent range," says Beery. "As a result, our maintenance costs have gone down more than 10 percent."

The airline has also been able to increase the number of applications it runs on Unix while lowering total cost of ownership. A vital cargo application, for example, has been added to its Solaris portfolio. Beery says this system generates high revenue for the company and can be trusted only to a a platform with great reliability.

When it comes to software, America West shies away from the bleeding edge. Much of its Solaris environment, for example, runs the Solaris 8 operating system. One machine is still running Solaris 7, while another runs a beta version of Solaris 9. Rather than switching to the latest version of the operating system, the company bases it decision on application requirements. It tends to wait for application vendors to port their products and then gradually introduces the newer versions.

"We tend not to run on the leading edge," Beery admits. "We prefer to wait for out application vendors and only implement a fully qualified version."

Future Plans

In keeping with its conservative approach to IT, the airline has yet to adopt the latest Primepower CPUs — 2+ GHz SPARC64 processors. Over time, however, Beery expects these chips to be introduced steadily into the enterprise. He also plans to add Fujitsu machines steadily over time.

In addition to expansion, the big adoption driver for more Primepower servers will be the US Airways merger. US Airways, says Beery, has traditionally preferred to outsource much of its IT infrastructure. That will change when it comes under America West's wing. America West plans to transfer many US Airways applications to a Fujitsu platform.

"We will be migrating many applications to Primepower as a result of the merger," says Beery. "We are moving much of the US Airlines infrastructure in-house, and a lot of it will end up on Fujitsu hardware."

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