Pride of the Emirate’s skies

Dubai’s national carrier Emirates Airlines has seen an unparalleled rate of expansion over the past 25 years.

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Pride of the Emirate’s skies
By  Ben Furfie Published  December 23, 2010

Dubai’s national carrier Emirates Airlines has seen an unparalleled rate of expansion over the past 25 years. As it stands on the cusp of 2011, the Middle East’s largest airline is preparing for the opening of its brand new datacentre which is intended to give it enough IT capacity for the next decade. Ben Furfie finds out more.

The story of Emirates Airlines is an interesting one. Founded in the mid-eighties following Gulf Air’s decision to cut the number of flights operating out of Dubai, Emirates has a success story that is only matched by the likes of Irish low-cost carrier Ryanair’s recent rise to dominance.

Founded with the backing of Dubai’s ruling family, the company was given a strict set of conditions. It would receive $10m in start-up capital, but it would have to be self-sufficient. Fail to launch the airline with that initial capital, and the company would fold. Emirates Airlines became profitable in just nine months. By the 1990s, the airline had become one of the fastest growing carriers globally. Today, the business has 145 planes in operation, ranging from the 278 passenger A330-200 through to the world’s largest plane, the 517 passenger A380-800, and is the Middle East’s largest airline by revenue and passenger number.

However, the culture of innovation isn’t restricted to the company’s fleet side operations. The company’s IT division also has a strong reputation in the Middle East’s enterprise market: and for good reason. The company’s latest project – a brand new two-floor, 1,000 sq m datacentre – is just the latest in a long line of ventures that have helped the company to where it is today. The datacentre, which is tier-IV rated according to Emirate’s datacentre facilities manager Sean Francis, is due to go online in February 2011. “The final commissioning is underway,” reveals Francis. “This new datacentre will provide us with enough capacity until 2020.”

The company already has two existing datacentres based in Dubai: its MITEC facility, which was its first datacentre, and its Emirates Group Technology Centre, which also houses the headquarters of Emirates’ technology division Mercator. However, when it came to expanding its data capacity, it didn’t automatically choose to invest in the current datacentre.

“When it became clear we were getting close to our capacity threshold, we began considering the options we had. One was to look at outsourcing it to a cloud services provider. However, while that was an attractive option from a cost perspective, the lack of control was a concern,” reveals Francis. “One of the core reasons we believe we have been so successful when it comes to our IT strategy has been our ability to control the quality of hardware used, the security of the infrastructure, and the versatility of the solution.”

Handling the solution in-house posed a number of challenges, reveals Francis. While the company had faced many of the same issues when constructing the its first two datacentres, its latest project was the first time the company had built one to be contained in its own structure, with no other functions planned inside. “Our first datacentre was very much an ad-hoc affair. We added capacity as we went along until we didn’t have any more space. That’s why the generator is outside of the building,” he laughs. “The wasn’t anymore room inside.

“In terms of the new datacentre, it will offer 500m2 of usable raised floor space on each of its two floors,” reveals Francis. “In terms of power supply, each floor will be supplied via 1200kVA N+1 UPS power in a modular format, with each backed up by N+1 1500kVA generators on each.”

According to Francis, this will provide more than enough power to manage the datacentre’s growth over the next 10 years. “At the moment, we’re only planning on bringing a small part of the datacentre online. Part of the reason for this is that it will enable us to test many of the new concepts, such as raised floors and ceilings, as well as dual-route cooling and exhaust heat management, we have implemented to ensure they work as expected. We have a number of goals we want to achieve related to the management of the new centre’s capacity. These include the control of costs, empowerment of the IT solutions, reduction of operating costs, efficient utilisation of resources and accurate measuring of all of these combined.

“In terms of managing the environment, we have a number of strategies to minimise energy consumption, while maximising efficiency,” says Francis.

“The datacentre has been designed from the ground up to ensure that cooling occurs naturally as much as possible. If you look at the basic design of the rack spaces, they are intended to make use of natural convection currents as much as possible to reduce the need for artificial cooling.

“It is small things like this that have enabled Emirates to achieve what it set out to do in the first place,” he claims.

While it’s current size may seem unnecessary for a single company that doesn’t predominantly deal in IT, the airline’s expansion plans will mean it needs to dramatically ramp up supply, especially at peak times.

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