Continental Airlines Projects 5 Million Annual Savings Through Virtualization




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Continental Airlines Projects $1.5 Million Annual Savings Through Virtualization















Overview

Country or Region: United States

Industry: Transportation and logistics—Air transportation services
Customer Profile

Continental Airlines is the fifth largest airline in the world. The Houston-based company has more than 42,000 employees and serves more than 67 million passengers each year.


Business Situation

The company sought to consolidate its server hardware and lower its energy and IT management costs while supporting its many remote workers.


Solution

Continental deployed Windows Server® 2008 R2 Datacenter with Remote Desktop Services and enhanced Hyper-V™ technology.


Benefits

Offers potential savings of U.S.$1.5 million a year

Boosts productivity with virtual desktops

Provides a highly available, scalable infrastructure

Simplifies management

Offers a long-term solution and a competitive edge










“The virtualization features of Windows Server 2008 R2 provide a highly available and scalable infrastructure, and they will result in significant savings.”

Jason Foster, Systems Architect and Director of Technology, Continental Airlines









Continental Airlines needed to consolidate its server hardware, lower its costs, and achieve a highly available server solution. It also wanted to better serve its remote workers. When the company learned about the virtualization capabilities of Windows Server® 2008 R2 Datacenter, it decided to deploy a beta version of the software. Features such as Remote Desktop Services, Hyper-V™ technology, and Cluster Shared Volumes have streamlined the deployment and management of virtual servers and desktops. Remote users now have a desktop experience nearly identical to in-office workers, helping them to be more productive. Continental has already consolidated more than 125 servers and deployed more than 320 virtual machines. Based on its beta experience, it expects to save U.S.$1.5 million a year in hardware, software, labor, deployment, and related operational costs.
































“In the past, providing a Terminal Server–based remote access solution with 5 to 10 applications could take weeks of engineering time .... Now, with Remote Desktop Services, our engineers spend 20 to 30 minutes per virtual machine.”

Jim Dekan, Technology Manager for Enterprise Systems Engineering, Continental Airlines






Situation

Continental Airlines is the fifth largest airline in the world, serving more than 67 million passengers each year. Based in Houston, Texas, the airline must provide an IT infrastructure to support its global reach. Its IT department delivers services for internal operations as well as for its customer service and external Web applications.


In the past, Continental had relied on the Windows Server® 2003 operating system for its data center. It had also used Terminal Services to provide remote workers with access to corporate applications. The airline deployed Windows Server 2008 Datacenter not long after it was released, and because the company continually updates its infrastructure to stay competitive, Continental was interested when Microsoft announced it would offer Windows Server 2008 R2. The company had taken advantage of the server virtualization in the initial release, and the expanded desktop and server virtualization capabilities of the new release were especially appealing. Continental sought to further consolidate its servers; to lower its hardware, energy, and management costs; and to provide a scalable solution that offered high availability—a critical need for an airline.
What’s more, Continental wanted to improve access to corporate resources for remote workers, such as its reservation agents, many of whom work from home. About 1,000 agents work remotely, with about 300 users needing concurrent access at a given time. The agents use between 10 and 30 applications, and over time Continental began to have problems with application compatibility. Most of the applications were written for desktop operating systems and were not designed to run on a virtualized server. As a result, the IT staff spent many hours attempting to resolve the issues.
Solution

In mid-2008, Continental began to evaluate a beta release of Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter, initially deploying the software on five servers in a test environment. “We expected that the new features would help us better support users of our line-of-business applications, gain a higher level of consolidation in our data center, and provide improved access for our remote users,” says Jim Dekan, Technology Manager for Enterprise Systems Engineering at Continental Airlines.


Based on the success of the early evaluation, Continental deployed the new release in its production environment. By June 2009, Continental had consolidated 125 servers.
Continental is using the enhanced Hyper-V™ technology and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) in Windows Server 2008 R2 to consolidate multiple server roles as separate virtual machines (VMs) running on a single physical server. Multiple operating systems can also run on a single server computer. With VDI, a centralized desktop delivery architecture, client desktop workloads are hosted in the data center. Client access is provided by Remote Desktop Services, formerly known as Terminal Services.
The Remote Desktop Connection Broker in Windows Server 2008 R2 extends the capabilities in the previous release to support the new virtual machine–based remote desktops. Through Remote Desktop Services, remote users are presented with a Web-based front end, so there is no need to set up a new configuration or have a Remote Desktop Protocol file to connect from outside the office. Based on their established permissions in the Active Directory® service, users can get access to the applications that they need, while all processing takes place on the server computer.
The airline takes advantage of the Cluster Shared Volumes feature in failover

“Deployment was faster, not only because we didn’t have to wait for 80 LUNs to be created, but also because we didn’t have as many LUNs to configure within the cluster.”

Jim Dekan, Technology Manager for Enterprise Systems Engineering, Continental Airlines







clustering to simplify the configuration and management of its clustered virtual machines. With Cluster Shared Volumes, multiple clustered virtual machines can use the same disk, or logical unit number (LUN), to access their Virtual Hard Disks (VHDs) at the same time. Previously, the Continental storage area network (SAN) team had to manually create about 80 LUNs. With Windows Server 2008 R2, the team reduced the number of LUNs to 8.
With Cluster Shared Volumes, VMs can move from node to node or failover independently of each other. By contrast, in a failover cluster without this feature, VMs can only failover independently if each virtual machine has its own LUN. Cluster Shared Volumes supports Live Migration, which IT staff can use to transfer VMs from one host server computer to another while it is in use—without any interruption of service.
Continental also uses the Windows PowerShell™ 2.0 command-line shell and scripting language and Microsoft® System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 to centrally manage physical servers and virtual machines. The virtualization extends across the company. “Except for our e-mail, there is scarcely an application that we use at Continental that we have not virtualized—from Web front-end servers to databases, domain controllers, and infrastructure servers,” says Charles Chow, Enterprise Engineer at Continental.
By June 2009, Continental had more than 320 VMs deployed, with some physical servers hosting 20 VMs each. The VMs run on HP ProLiant BL460c blade servers with Intel Xeon 5160 and 5450 processors. The airline plans to continue to increase its virtualization as it phases in deployment of Windows Server 2008 R2.
Benefits

Continental Airlines has already achieved significant benefits from the new server deployment at its data center, and it expects more in the future. “The virtualization features of Windows Server 2008 R2 provide a highly available and scalable infrastructure, and they will result in significant savings,” says Jason Foster, Systems Architect and Director of Technology at Continental. The airline also expects the desktop virtualization capabilities of the new release will help it retain valuable employees.


Offers Potential Savings of $1.5 Million a Year

Continental expects to save about U.S.$1.5 million annually in hardware, software, IT management, and related operational costs. Because a single physical server running Windows Server 2008 R2 can support more than 30 standard workloads—up from 10 to 15 with the previous version—Continental expects to save $60,000 to $80,000 for each Hyper-V server alone.


Continental has already consolidated more than 125 servers through its deployment of more than 320 VMs. By reducing the amount of space required in the data center and gaining the ability to add more virtual machines, the company expects to reduce its power and cooling costs. “We have not yet made any calculations,” says Chow. “However, we anticipate huge savings there, too.”

Other timesavings should also significantly cut IT costs. “In the past, providing a Terminal Server–based remote access solution with 5 to 10 applications could take weeks of engineering time, due to application compatibility issues,” says Dekan. “Now, with Remote Desktop Services, our engineers spend 20 to 30 minutes per virtual machine. And when they put the VMs in the VDI environment, the applications run smoothly without


“Desktop virtualization with Windows Server 2008 R2 will give us a competitive advantage. It will help us attract and retain top employees. A flexible work force is a happier work force.”

Jim Dekan, Technology Manager for Enterprise Systems Engineering, Continental Airlines






intervention. The time and money saved will add up quickly.”
The reduction in the number of LUNs that the SAN team had to set up—from 80 to 8—also saved time. “Deployment was faster, not only because we didn’t have to wait for 80 LUNs to be created, but also because we didn’t have as many LUNs to configure within the cluster,” says Dekan.
In addition, Dekan notes the company has already saved on real-estate costs by giving reservation agents the opportunity to work from home. “With the ease of deploying and managing virtual desktops using Windows Server 2008 R2, I expect we will save even more,” he says.
Boosts Productivity with Virtual Desktops

The integration of Remote Desktop Services and VDI is also helping the airline build a cohesive, more engaged and productive work force. The response to desktop virtualization has been enthusiastic. After the IT staff set up virtual desktops for some employees in a remote office to work at home, Dekan says, “Within a week-and-a-half, we had 24 more requests to try the virtual solution. People like the fact that, with Remote Desktop Services, their virtual desktops look the same as their physical desktops.”


As the company moves forward, Dekan anticipates the use of virtual desktops will continue to grow. Employees throughout the company have already expressed an interest, from reservation agents and administrative staff to developers. “This will be especially helpful for developers who work at remote offices around the world,” says Dekan. “They can be connected to corporate resources at headquarters and collaborate more effectively. And the virtual desktops will help everyone to be more productive—from the users to the IT staff who manage the desktops.”
Provides a Highly Available, Scalable Infrastructure

Continental says the Live Migration capability in Hyper-V is one of the most useful new features. “We can’t afford downtime,” says Chow. “But in a virtualization environment, you often have to make software updates to both individual VMs and hosts. So the ability to easily move VMs from host to host with Live Migration while making updates—with no interruption in service to the user—will be invaluable to us.”


Simplifies Management

Windows Server 2008 R2 offers several management features that Continental finds useful. For example, Foster likes how easy it is to write Windows PowerShell 2.0 scripts to automate day-to-day Hyper-V administrative tasks. “Previously, I had to wait between each line of script that I wrote for each line to be accepted before I could move on to the next line. Now, with Windows PowerShell 2.0, I can write the whole script and issue it at once.” A graphical management console also helps the company to more efficiently manage its server solution remotely.



Offers a Long-Term Solution and a Competitive Edge

For Continental Airlines, the virtualization features in Windows Server 2008 R2 will yield rewards for years to come. “The savings in hardware, time, and effort are tremendous,” says Foster. “That’s why we need to virtualize as much of our infrastructure as we can.”


There are intangible benefits, too. “Desktop virtualization with Windows Server 2008 R2 will give us a competitive advantage. It will help us attract and retain top employees,” Dekan says. “A flexible work force is a happier work force. Windows Server 2008 R2 will help us continue to promote our corporate culture and our reputation as one of the top places in the country to work.”

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234 in the United States or (905) 568-9641 in Canada. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:


www.microsoft.com
For more information about Continental Airlines products and services, visit the Web site at:
www.continental.com



This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Document published August 2009










Software and Services

Microsoft Server Product Portfolio

Windows Server 2008 R2 Datacenter

Microsoft System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008

Technologies

Active Directory

Hyper-V

Remote Desktop Services



Windows PowerShell 2.0

Hardware

HP ProLiant BL460c blade servers with

Intel Xeon 5160 and 5450 processors




Windows Server 2008 R2

Windows Server 2008 R2 is the latest version of the Windows Server operating system from Microsoft. With Windows Server 2008 R2, you can create solutions that are easier to plan, deploy, and manage than with previous versions of Windows Server. Building on the features, security, reliability, and performance provided by Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2 extends connectivity and control to local and remote resources. This means that your organization can benefit from reduced costs and increased efficiencies gained through enhanced management and control over resources across the enterprise


For more information, go to

www.microsoft.com/WindowsServer2008R2


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