Keeping the ball rolling

Ensuring that their 24-hour operation continues on without interruption, Dubai Duty Free implements Veeam Availability Suite

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Keeping the ball rolling Chapman: "We are able to provision for the future, which means having cloud-based backups and hybrid cloud."
By  Alexander Sophoclis Pieri Published  April 6, 2017

Service disruption, particularly when unplanned, can have quite an impact on a business’ bottom line. Whether stemming from a technical fault, interference from a pesky cybercriminal, or even when an outage is planned well in advance, service disruption can often cost companies thousands in losses with each passing hour.

One such enterprise wary of the dangers of service disruption is Dubai Duty Free (DDF). Responsible for the duty-free operations at the Dubai International and Al Maktoum International airports, which sees a combined total of 1.5 million travellers passing through each week, DDF manages more than 60,000 transactions and ships over 400 pallets of retail goods on a daily basis.

Founded in 1982, Dubai Duty Free has won numerous accolades, which includes receiving in 2016, its 12th Superbrand Award, as well as its second Brand of the Year award in the retail – duty free category at the World Branding Awards. According to the team at Dubai Duty Free however, one of the company’s greatest feats lies with its constant service that has remained undisrupted since 20 December, 1983.

Since its inception, the back-end of DDF’s 24x7 operation has changed dramatically, both in terms of size and scope. Over time, new technologies were incorporated into the business, which included the adoption of Oracle Retail, the creation of a dedicated portal for suppliers, as well as the introduction of an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) and a mini-shipment system to DDF’s warehouse.

In recent years, the company has moved to virtualise the entirety of its IT infrastructure on Microsoft Hyper-V, a strategic decision that brought not only tangible benefits in terms of operational efficiency, but a host of new challenges as well.

Dubai Duty Free discovered that the risk of downtime increased substantially and the speed at which its virtual machine (VM) could recover was too slow for their liking. Additionally, DDF found that item-level recovery was simply not possible.

Restoring VMs running off Microsoft SQL Servers, which supported DDF’s point-of-sale system, was particularly slow and could take several hours to complete.

The restoration of individual emails in Microsoft Exchange was even more time-consuming, as the data had to be recovered from tape. Additional challenges included DDF’s inability to back up small clusters of VMware vSphere VMs, as well being unable to monitor its multi-hypervisor environment.

“One of the strategic objectives of DDF was the virtualisation of all the windows servers. These servers have diverse roles from running Microsoft Exchange, the middle ware (intermediate office) for supporting the point of sales (front office) and run the Material Handling and Control Systems for driving the automated warehouse, to name the most critical servers,” explains Allan Chapman, IT Manager at Dubai Duty Free.

“The ability to insure against data loss, and utilise the rapid recovery facility to reduce time to recover was absolutely crucial.”

To meet these challenges, Dubai Duty Free took the decision to adopt Veeam Availability Suite, designed specifically for the always-on enterprise. Comprising of both Veeam Backup & Replication and Veeam One, the former serves as a backup, restore and replication platform, while the latter adds capabilities around advanced monitoring, reporting and capacity planning functionality.

Conceptualised and evaluated over a six months period, which was then followed by a two month deployment, where additional storage was provisioned, DDF’s Veeam Availability Suite implementation went live in October 2016.

Highlighting the reasoning behind the selection of Veeam’s availability offerings, Chapman shares that part of the attraction lay with Veeam’s support of “both VMware and hyperV via a single console.”

He added that Veeam One brought much-needed capabilities around monitoring, which helped improve DDF’s visibility on the health of their virtual machines. This proved immensely beneficial in warehouse operations, where real-time monitoring and alerting, combined with customisable reporting, helps the company to identify and tackle issues in VMs overseeing warehouse operations.

Meanwhile, Veeam Backup & Replication allows DDF to replicate its VMs, providing business continuity and supporting disaster recovery efforts. Additionally, the platform introduces faster recovery processes, which have helped boost the company’s recovery speed by to 99%, for entire VMs and even individual items.

“The implementation of Veeam on top of the virtualisation, gives us the ability to automate the backup process. By allowing the grouping of servers by various roles, we are able to tailor the backup and restore criteria and frequency of the backup,” explains Chapman.

“The ability to restore data at the file level is also a feature that is appreciated as we had instances where E-mail and files, which were deleted by the users, could be restored from the backup in a few minutes.”

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