Feeds

Virgin America dumps servers, flies for the clouds

Open-source payload

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

For a start-up, Virgin America is acting pretty big these days.

In the spring of 2007, the low-price airline wasn't even flying. It was still struggling for US regulatory clearance. But suddenly, Washington DC gave it the green light, and on August 8 that year, Virgin's first commercial flight took off from its base at San Francisco International Airport.

Between that spring and summer, Virgin's IT staff of seven scrambled to set up the infrastructure: running cables, installing operating systems on PCs, building a data-center, a reliable web site and middleware, email, business, reservation, and flight systems.

The upshot? A brand, spanking new carrier, a humming data center, and a website responsible for more than 70 per cent of Virgin's multi-million-dollar business that it calls the "crown jewels." The set-up underpins an airline that's grown rapidly from just three US cities with seven flights a day to more than 100 daily flights serving 13 cities.

Virgin America's Ravi Simhambhatla, photo: Gavin Clarke

Simhambhatla: departing from Virgin America's recent past

The good and the bad is that just over two and a half years down the runway, the start-up is acting more like the airlines it competes with - decades-old carriers that are several times bigger but also burdened by bloated IT infrastructures that make it so difficult to respond to changing needs.

But under Virgin's recently appointed new chief information office Ravi Simhambhatla, the man who installed all those virgin systems in 2007, the airline has taking steps to avoid this sort of future. He's starting with a bout of server consolidation.

The goal is a streamlined data center that will kick out its nearly brand-new 100 data center servers and double down on server blades. Virgin under Simhambhatla also plans to tap cloud computing, so it's got tons more compute and storage - only not on his premises.

Furthermore, Simhambhatla has re-organizing Virgin's now expanded IT team of 30 to act less like a bunch of people in start-up mode and more like a mature operation that plans ahead.

Simhambhatla, who was named Virgin CIO this summer in recognition for his early set-up work, told The Reg that even though Virgin is new, the logic driving the change is simple: to keep the costs of IT down and to let the individuals in IT find new ways of serving Virgin's customers, through things like mobile check in on the iPhone.

"Because we are such a tech heavy company, we have to keep our eyes on the ball," Simhambhatla said. "We are consciously pushing ourselves to implement technologies that bring value our guests. That's the biggest challenge because the entire landscape is changing."

Pilots to fly without wires

Illustrating the kind of thinking Virgin expect and encourages, is the fact Virgin swapped the standard mountainous volume of paper-based flight documents and navigation charts that airline pilots typically haul about in a brief case on wheels through airports for an electronic system that uses a Windows-based tablet and has information uploaded via a USB. The idea was to consolidate essential flight information and make it easier to access.

The next step, in early 2010, is to let pilots download all that data via wireless - right to the point where they leave the airport, at the gate. Also added will be information on weather conditions and ground speed. The idea is to ensure pilots get all the latest data on flying conditions. Other airlines' pilots will still be lugging about dated charts and graphs in 2010.

"Our company doesn't need just another IT team, the more and more we get entrenched in the world way of doing things the less and less room we will make for ourselves to be innovative."

Simhambhatla joined Virgin in March 2006 before the carrier's first flight and was given a mandate: set up all the IT systems and be ready to fly in just four-months' time.

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
729 teraflops, 71,000-core Super cost just US$5,500 to build
Cloud doubters, this isn't going to be your best day
Azure TITSUP caused by INFINITE LOOP
Fat fingered geo-block kept Aussies in the dark
Want to STUFF Facebook with blatant ADVERTISING? Fine! But you must PAY
Pony up or push off, Zuck tells social marketeers
Oi, Europe! Tell US feds to GTFO of our servers, say Microsoft and pals
By writing a really angry letter about how it's harming our cloud business, ta
You think the CLOUD's insecure? It's BETTER than UK.GOV's DATA CENTRES
We don't even know where some of them ARE – Maude
SAVE ME, NASA system builder, from my DEAD WORKSTATION
Anal-retentive hardware nerd in paws-on workstation crisis
Astro-boffins start opening universe simulation data
Got a supercomputer? Want to simulate a universe? Here you go
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.