Northern Marine operates a diverse fleet of tankers, ferries, and offshore assets. These vessels rely on a host of critical applications such as crew management, cargo management, accounting, security, and maintenance systems, and even their digital entertainment systems for the ship’s crew. Because internet connectivity is highly intermittent with no onboard IT personnel, Northern Marine has deployed Scale Computing HyperCore clusters to run their operations smoothly while at sea.
Northern Marine Group is a ship management and marine services provider. They provide a full spectrum of ship and offshore management and wide-ranging service solutions for training, travel management, marine supply, ship agency, marine engineering, and offshore catering. Headquartered in Glasgow, their diverse fleet of technically managed vessels includes a wide range of tankers, ferries and offshore assets.
- Upgrade existing deployed IT infrastructure on board their vessels
- Physically intermittent internet connectivity – satellite connectivity and latency
- No onboard IT personnel
- Ensure servers remain online and operational with minimal downtimeReduce exposure to expensive en route repairs
- Comply with regulatory requirements
THE SCALE COMPUTING SOLUTION
- Scale Computing HyperCore is easily and quickly deployed and easy to manage.
Designed and deployed server cluster to achieve zero downtime
- Self-healing, intelligent automation enables IT managers to spend less time on menial tasks; while at sea with intermittent connectivity, the ability to heal without a central brain or IT intervention was critical
- Increased productivity and lower TCO
- Modular cluster architecture provides instant scalability
- Dramatic decreased complexity: One integrated platform, easy to install
- Zero downtime: No downtime during software updates and upgrades
- Continuous operations: Even when a disk or a complete server breaks, the system keeps running
- Increasing resiliency and uptime: Integrated self-healing technologies reduce hands on maintenance, ideal for limited-to-no IT personnel on vessels
- Integrated snapshot technology: Rapid fallback to a snapshot of prior known good state, decreasing the risk of operational downtime in the event of a disruption
Deploy a reliable and ultra-resilient onboard IT infrastructure
The Northern Marine Group is a wholly owned subsidiary of Stena AB, one of the largest family-owned group of companies in Sweden. Northern Marine Group has grown from a ship management provider to a group of companies offering the full spectrum of marine and offshore services. Headquartered in Glasgow, their diverse fleet of technically managed vessels includes a wide range of tankers, ferries and offshore assets.
Keeping a fleet of ships up and running 24x7x365 is no small task. A modern onboard IT-infrastructure bridges two worlds: traditional onboard IT and the cloud. However, even in today’s always connected digital economy, there’s no guarantee that a connection with the cloud or even on shore is always available. While shore-based connections dramatically improved over the past two decades, continuous operation and regulated safety requirements drives the need of an onboard data center approach. Again, connection cannot always be guaranteed. Many ship operators have dealt with communications problems in the middle of a storm, during a satellite switch, during a cyber-attack or worse, communication might be jammed during a hijack attempt.
Due to regulatory requirements, each vessel contains a triple management system to ensure proper shipboard and safety management. Essentially it is a document management system to house the manuals, safety procedures, policies, etc. for the ship and are updated on a continuous basis. If at any time this document management system is unavailable, it can result in compliance violations, ultimately limiting the number of charters for each vessel. Each vessel also contains a plan maintenance system and communication systems that must be always functioning to comply with regulatory requirements.
On-ship applications include:
- Accounting & Cargo Management
- Crew Management
- Planned Maintenance System (PMS)
- Crew Training & Simulation
- Firewall / Security
- Data Collection & Analytics
Over time, it became clear to Northern Marine that they needed to:
- Embrace newer technology to deliver improved fleet management application performance, availability, and capacity
- Guaranteed operational productivity
- Lower TCO
- To best ensure keeping its critical, regulatory data safe
We were looking for ways to evolve our onboard IT infrastructure across our fleet. In the last several years, requirements for key infrastructure systems on board have changed. Each vessel now has two or more operational critical applications on its server infrastructure, meaning we really can’t afford any downtime. We need to be able to sustain equipment failure and still continue to operate."— Scott Mungall, IT Technical Lead, Northern Marine
A global fleet demands a flexible approach at the network edge
Northern Marine’s fleet can be found anywhere in the world and is constantly on the move. The realities of a truly global environment mean that a vessel’s IT infrastructure must be reliable and easy to manage. To replace or repair any part of the operating environment onboard a ship is very complex and can take days to fix, depending on where a ship might be. Optimizing operations with self-healing, automated infrastructure for all applications was a crucial next step. Because internet connectivity is highly intermittent with no IT personnel onboard, Northern Marine deployed SC//HyperCore clusters to run their operations smoothly while at sea. The first 27 ships were deployed in 2019 and 2020.
During 2019 and 2020, Northern Marine achieved consistent application availability, simplified management, and secure applications across the initial 27 ships where HyperCore Edge was deployed. They were able to free their operations team from the complexity and costs of traditional IT, giving them peace of mind and allowing them to focus their attention on core business needs.
By consolidating the three separate systems that manage storage, compute, and network into a single, highly available hyperconverged system, HyperCore Edge provides integrated server virtualization, disaster recovery tools and management capabilities into an easy-to-manage system that can remain operational in even the most extreme and demanding environments. Based on the success of the initial deployment, Northern Marine deployed another 17 ships in 2021. The last deployment was based on the new nano-size edge cluster with HE100 servers.
Each HyperCore Edge node only requires two connections, a round DC power plug and a rectangular Ethernet plug, allowing anyone who could plug in a laptop to add or swap a failed node.
Easy to deploy, simple to manage, and cost-effective
Northern Marine immediately noticed enhanced performance and simplified management as soon as the solution was deployed. With the Scale Computing rollout, Northern Marine was able to build a single virtualized server, export it and send it to all of the vessels, saving around four hours per build. Other immediate benefits included:
- Simplified and reduced management time
- Complete redundancy – always on 24/7
- Business continuity
- Snapshot replication and backup
- Ready for future deployments at sea
- 90% less time to rebuild: Restoring a system/VM on a vessel, for example after a cyber-attack, takes a fraction of the time, with less hours and stress for crew and shore-based support staff
- 90% less time to install a Docker application: Installing a new Docker application takes a fraction of the time compared to the same installation on the old Hyper-V environment
While the team hasn’t had an opportunity to conduct a full ROI analysis at this point, Northern Marine is looking forward to deploying more HyperCore Edge clusters in the future.
Although the initial acquisition cost for an SC//HyperCore cluster is higher than what we used to pay, the difference is paid back, spending less hours during the installation preparation and deployment onboard of a vessel. The total costs, also saving on license cost, are fractionally higher than a single server solution.— Scott Mungall, IT Technical Lead, Northern Marine