Inside Virgin Blue’s IT transformation

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Inside Virgin Blue’s IT transformation

Virgin Blue CIO David Harvey wants to embrace application offshoring and cloud services as he continues to drive the airline's lengthy IT transformation.

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Speaking at NSC Group's business optimisation summit in Sydney, Harvey provided a candid and wide-ranging update on the carrier's IT transformation, which has been underway for two-and-a-half years.

He said that Virgin Blue would continue to embrace partner and managed services.

To date, the airline has outsourced its data centres, remote infrastructure management and applications support and some application development to third-party providers.

"We started [the transformation] by prioritising the infrastructure that needed replacing, but then we stepped back and also said ‘how do we change the game'," Harvey said.

"We had to acknowledge we couldn't continue to do it all ourselves."

Harvey said that in continuing its transformation, the airline had "pushed 50 production servers out to Verizon in the United States" last week, freeing the time of up to seven staff for other projects.

"Cloud computing and storage-on-demand are also things we want to get into our business because they will drive efficiency," Harvey said.

Harvey also indicated that Virgin Blue is "looking at an offshore option" to maintain between 300 and 400 internal legacy systems handcoded by the airline's developers.

Earlier, he described inheriting this bank of applications when he joined Virgin Blue as a "set of handcuffs" due to the way they had been put together.

"We had a young and creative developer team that was mostly straight out of University so they had no point of reference for building or documenting systems," Harvey said.

"In their wisdom they decided they wouldn't use standard development frameworks so they built their own, which took shortcuts that enabled them to develop ten times faster than anyone else.

"The problem is you can't easily go to market and get someone to work on the systems because it takes six weeks to train them [in how they were developed]."

Harvey also showed a couple of images of the ‘data centre' he inherited. One photo showed a series of rackmount servers layered on top of what appeared to be a small footstool. It "clocked up $5 million" in revenue supporting a one-night airfare sale, Harvey said.

"We had lots of aged infrastructure and significant outages," Harvey said.

"We had the air-conditioning and UPS fail 10 or 15 times. I also got a call at four in the morning to say the SAN had collapsed. When I asked what was affected, the caller rattled off a big list of critical systems."

The data centre overhaul spearheaded by Harvey has seen it outsourced to a third-party provider.

Virgin Blue has also invested in Sun virtualisation and enterprise server technology in a project that internal IT staff has nicknamed ‘clusterzilla'.

"We've rationalised some 70 servers into the clusterzilla environment," Harvey said.

The overall environment includes 600 servers (approximately 30 per cent of which have been virtualised), 4,500 desktops, 500 laptops and 110 kiosks. The IT team supports an overall user base of 7,000, including third parties.

The airline also has a call centre run on Avaya technology that has been integrated and managed by NSC Group. Harvey said the airline plans to tie it more closely to its business intelligence systems to predict why customers might be calling for support and redirect their calls to appropriate people faster.

Read on to page two to see how Harvey battled to change Virgin Blue's IT culture.

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