Virtualising the mission critical

Abu Dhabi Ports Company has accomplished a regional first with a major Oracle on VMware virtualisation project

Tags: Abu Dhabi Ports CompanyOracle CorporationVMware Incorporated
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Virtualising the mission critical Al Ketbi: ADPC’s Oracle implementation is complex, and very few companies have virtualised large Oracle deployments. (ITP Images)
By  Mark Sutton Published  May 9, 2013

Abu Dhabi Ports Company has launched one of the largest and most cutting edge transport hubs in the region with the opening of Khalifa Port and its associated industrial zones. To support a rapid programme of growth, ADPC’s IT department is also setting new standards, with a major deployment of business critical Oracle applications on VMware virtualisation.

With the official opening of Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Port on 12th December last year, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in the region was formally open for business. The $7.2bn project, which includes the port and the neighbouring Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD) is intended to become one of the largest such transport hubs of its kind, to rival global players. On completion in 2030, the mega-facility will have the capacity to handle 15 million containers and 35 million tons of cargo, and the entire zone will cover 417 square kilometres. Khalifa Port has also become the only semi-automated container terminal in the region, becoming fully operational in September last year.

Running such a major set of facilities, especially with complex integration with a large number of customers and other entities, and with advanced port systems, naturally requires a considerable amount of information technology to manage it. The Khalifa Port may only have gone operational in 2012, but the project was incepted in 2006, and Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC), which is responsible for Khalifa Port and KIZAD, as well as several other ports in Abu Dhabi and the Western Region of the UAE, has been building its IT infrastructure since then.

ADPC has put in place considerable IT resources and manpower to handle the task, which includes managing the automated port systems, integrating processes with bodies such as customs and police, and managing customers, both those passing through the port, and the companies resident in KIZAD. The company has a comprehensive stack of Oracle E-Business solutions handling many of the business processes, including CRM, business intelligence, web, content management and Oracle databases, and a Cisco Borderless Network solution to connect the various sites.

In line with the ambitious growth plans for the project, ADPC has also aimed for optimal performance from its IT infrastructure, and to that end had undertaken a virtualisation project in 2008. By 2010, this first virtualisation project had seen complete virtualisation of the operational IT systems of the company, including Microsoft SQL, Active Directory, Exchange, and SharePoint.

While 100% virtualisation was an aim of ADPC’s vice president of IT, Dr Saif Al Ketbi, virtualising the Oracle deployment, with so many modules, running across a mix of hardware including x86, HP-UX and Itanium based physical servers, was not a priority. Virtualising such a comprehensive stack of Oracle solutions on such a scale had not been done in the Middle East, and there were various vendor support issues that also raised questions about the feasibility of the project.

By late 2012 however, ADPC found itself faced with a problem — 27 of the physical servers running the Oracle solutions would be out of warranty by the end of the year. With uncertainty as to the status of Oracle’s support for Itanium-based servers, and the diverse server landscape not providing the most efficient set up, ADPC needed to decide on the future path for its hardware. Simply replacing the servers with new physical servers was not a cost effective option, and also did not fit with future plans for transitioning to the cloud or for environmental targets. Renewing expensive licences for the applications was also a factor. The logical path would be to virtualise the stack running the Oracle solutions, but this posed its own problem — virtualisation of such a comprehensive stack of Oracle had been done barely a handful of times before, and had not been attempted by any organisation in the region.

“The Oracle application implementation we have at ADPC is not a simple implementation, we are one of the only companies in the Middle East with a full version of Oracle, the whole suite of E-Business, Siebel, Hyperion, databases…” said Al Ketbi

The risk and scale of the project was considerable, so an initial feasibility phase was launched. While ADPC considered using a specialist consultant, Al Ketbi said that due to the unique nature of the implementation, he decided that it would be best to keep the project inhouse, rather than to use external consultants. As there was relatively little external expertise in the field, and as ADPC’s team would have to learn the technology anyway, it would be an internal project, with input from vendors as necessary.

The project then moved into its first proper phase, the assessment and design stage. “Phase one, was to do a full study, sit with the application team, sit with the system team, and sit with Oracle, because there is a lot involved from the Oracle side from the licensing perspective and so on, and we had some people from EMC also,” he said.

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