June 19th, 2013 by Brian Beeler
Flight Options On-Site Visit
Writing about storage and our experiences in our own lab is enjoyable, but every now and then we like to get out in the field to talk to end users and to see storage in the wild. Our most recent visit took us 250 miles up to Flight Options which is located just east of Cleveland, Ohio. Flight Options is a private aircraft operations company with 102 airplanes under management currently. That makes them the 2nd largest private jet operation globally. Like many other regional jet operators, Flight Options sells fractional shares of jets. The Flight Options fleet ranges from a small cabin Hawker 400XP that seats seven, to a large cabin Legacy 600 that seats up to 13 and has a range of over 3,700 nautical miles. Unlike other similar operators though, Flight Options has invested heavily in proprietary software solutions to manage their owners and aircraft which comes through no more obviously than their NASA-inspired control center. From a storage perspective, what makes all of these systems stay online all the time is Dell Compellent.
Why Dell Compellent?
Flight Options' choice to go with Dell Compellent all started with an IT disaster when a leaking five-ton air conditioner on its data center roof entirely submerged Flight Options' IT equipment in several feet of water. This was something Flight Options needed to remedy fast; their operations depend on 24/7 uptime to provide top-tier service to their clients. The IT team only had a few days to replace servers and storage systems while operating out of a backup/DR facility. The flooding necessitated a decision that Flight Options had already been considering, but wasn't planning on making for several days at the earliest, possibly even weeks down the line. At that time, its storage provider was EMC, but their systems were 10 years old and in need of replacement. Along with its technology advisor from CDW, Flight Options was considering EMC and Compellent. Compellent won out in a pinch with the promise of a smooth transition and expedited delivery to ensure Flight Options would be up and running quickly and hiccup free.
Within just one day, Compellent had a new system out to Flight Options, and just 36 hours after the onset of the flood, the Compellent equipment was spinning and data migration was in process. Aiding Flight Options in moving forward, the Compellent Copilot Support onsite worked with the IT team to get the equipment dried out and to transfer the data locally over the new SAN that consisted of two controllers and five cabinets. Of the five disk shelves, three were designed for high-performance HDDs and two for capacity. While we probed on the use of flash in the environment, like many SMBs, Flight Options simply doesn't have applications that require that level of performance.
Tacking on to that superb experience, Flight Options was also relieved that their cooling solutions were able to be scaled back drastically with the new Compellent SAN system installed. Previously, using two five-ton units on the roof and interior wall units left the data center room at 85°F; after the switch, Flight Options was using just one roof unit and the interior wall units were able to be completely shut off. Cost savings continued as the two-member IT staff spent a lot less time for administration in the IT center and could focus on the company's daily operations, network planning and implementing a new VoIP system.
Efficiency of Storage
The move to Dell Compellent, while done under duress, has turned out to be an instrumental component in delivering quality of service for such a small internal IT team delivering to over 1,600 employees. The Dell Compellent solution just works, and it requires minimal management on an ongoing basis. In fact, since deployment, the biggest challenge Flight Options has had with their Compellent system is a capacity concern as their data sets have continued to grow. Flight Options simply tacked on a 2U expansion shelf, this time using 1TB 2.5" drives instead of the prior-generation 3.5" drives in the initial deployment.
The control center is definitely the visual highlight of the Flight Options organization, and at a glance, it highlights the how and why data is perpetually being created here. The center map tracks all active flights and the grids on either side highlight each plane and their upcoming flights and service. But it's not just knowing where planes are at a given time (120 legs flown daily) and keeping detailed service logs, Flight Options also arranges catering, ground transportation and hotels, for both clients and flight crews. All of these details and processes are captured in various systems ranging from their custom applications with SQL backend to Oracle Financials and VMware virtualization. Flight Options is a big believer in virtualization, with 99.6% of their applications operating in virtualized environments.
Small IT shops across the world struggle with many of the same problems with which Flight Options was faced. Flight Options wanted a storage solution that was easy to deploy but also easy to manage - they simply don't have resources to spend tuning storage for optimal performance with their preference going to a system that just works. Such is the allure of Dell Compellent for Flight Options, which, since deployment, haven't had to do much of anything to keep the system online 24/7. And when they did have questions or issues with their deployment, they phoned in their rare needs to the Dell Compellent 800 number. That number directs callers quickly to an engineer well-versed in all-things-Compellent. Overall, Flight Options couldn't be more satisfied with the result of their last-minute selection as the planes were never grounded, service remained at top-tier levels and the overall transition was smooth with no client-perceived impact.