Virgin builds data center from scratch on Verari blades

Virgin America prevented data center buildout with Verari Systems BladeRack 2XT blade servers, along with Red Hat Enterprise Linux, water-chilled cooling and VMware virtualization.

Virgin America's CIO Bill McGuire had the opportunity to build the 1-year-old airline's 1,800-square-foot data center in Burlingame, Calif., from scratch. McGuire made several nontraditional choices -- like liquid cooling and Verari Systems Inc.'s blade servers -- to create the most efficient data center possible.

Launched in August 2007, the airline's base of operations is San Francisco International Airport's International Terminal. Virgin America, a spin-off of U.K.-based Virgin Airlines group, needed a data center to support flight applications and its ticketing website, where the majority of Virgin America's tickets are booked, McGuire said.

When McGuire looked for server hardware to support these applications, he sought high performance, affordability and energy efficiency. After looking at servers from Rackable Systems and other vendors, McGuire chose Verari's BladeRack 2XT. "These blades really scream," McGuire said. "We have increased performance and also consolidated, and we have only been in operation for a year."

"We did look at the high-performance servers from Hewlett-Packard Co. They are very good, but they do not get to the performance we get on the Verari and they are not as energy friendly," McGuire said. "Using Verari blades, we should be able to stay in our space for the next five years without having to build out the data center."

Data center choices
Each Verari 2XT blade in Virgin's data center has two quad-core Intel 64-bit CPUs at 2.6 GHz, with 4 Mb L2 cache per core, two 75 GB SAS drives, 16 GB of memory that can be upgraded to 18 GB, four network interface cards (NICs) and one IP-KVM NIC, McGuire said.

One of the reasons McGuire chose Verari is its Vertical Cooling Technology, which creates a high velocity vertical stream of ascending cool air rather than traditional front-to-back cooling and eliminates the need for a hot-aisle/cool-aisle layout. "The [blade] design is really energy efficient because of the way they cool, so you are maximizing the air conditioning of your data center," he said.

Using Verari blades, we should be able to stay in our space for the next five years without having to build out the data center.
Bill McGuire,
CIOVirgin America

In the data center, McGuire went with water-cooling systems from Liebert Corp. that cools from above instead of blowing air up from below.

"Raised floor is expensive and not required anymore. It is more efficient to cool rackmounted servers with water-chilled air," McGuire said. "[Water-chilled air] is heavy air and floats from the ceiling down. This takes less energy than pushing air up through the racks. [The] result: less cooling required, less power, helps energy companies in California, and it also saves us money."

The largely open source shop runs its website, where most of the company's online bookings are made, on 60 Verari blade servers using entirely open source applications running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, McGuire said. He also begrudgingly runs some Windows instances as well.

For virtualization, the company uses VMware and is considering Hyper-V for its Windows applications, McGuire said. "Hyper-V really kicks butt. We have seen some good reviews."

The company now has a total of 180 physical servers in its data center and about 60 VMs on about 12 VMware ESX instances. But that configuration changes frequently depending on the work being done, McGuire said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

Also, check out our data center blogs; Server Farming, Mainframe Propellerhead, and Data Center Facilities Pro

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