A TUI Cruises vessel (Photo: TUI Cruises)

The Peculiarities of High-Availability Data Center Design on a Cruise Ship

While watching the sun disappear below the horizon or stargazing at night from the deck are the staples of a cruise experience, vacationers also want to watch movies on-demand or browse the internet while in their cabins.

Much like a big hotel, a cruise ship usually has a data center onboard to provide digital services. While a data center on a ship is similar to one in a hotel – both have servers, storage, and networking gear to run software – there are some differences.

Cruise ships are mobile, speeding toward their next port of call in the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean coast or the Canary Islands, and ensuring service availability means both primary and backup data center is usually on the same vessel, not miles apart.

That’s the design the German IT services provider BSH IT Solutions implemented aboard six vessels operated by TUI Cruises, a Hamburg-based joint venture between TUI AG and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Niels Heider, project manager at BSH, and his team installed primary and backup data centers in separate fire zones and on different decks. One data center is located in the bow of the ship, while the other is on the stern, he told Data Center Knowledge in an interview.

“It’s the same. Ships are the same as a hotel,” he said. “It’s nothing special.”

The data centers allow TUI to run important ship operations, such as allowing passengers to order food, drinks, and other services. The IT infrastructure also provides passengers with Wi-Fi access, video-on-demand, and Wi-Fi calling, while giving employees access to email and other administrative applications, Heider said. The typical applications are Microsoft Exchange, Active Directory, and SQL Server.

TUI announced in June an implementation of DataCore Software’s SANsymphony storage virtualization software throughout the six-vessel fleet, including the newly built 2,534-passenger Mein Schiff 6, which made its maiden voyage last month.

TUI standardized on VMware, running VMs mostly on Hewlett Packard Enterprise servers and storage hardware, but one ship uses Dell servers and storage, Heider said. On the networking front, some ships use Cisco networking equipment, while others use HPE networking gear.

Heider’s team deployed DataCore’s SAN virtualization software to simplify storage management and ensure high availability. The software synchronously mirrors data across two data centers on each ship, so if one of them fails, the other takes over automatically. “It’s really good software and easy to use,” he said.

BSH spent the last four to five years upgrading and installing the data center infrastructure in TUI cruise ships. It takes about nine months to plan, test, and install the technology on each vessel, Heider said.

On the recently finished Mein Schiff 6, for example, each data center has two physical servers running virtual machines and another six physical servers running and housing the video-on-demand system. Each data center houses 26TB of storage.

To provide passengers and the 1,000 crew members on the ship the bandwidth they need, the BSH team built a network using HPE’s 10 Gigabit Ethernet networking equipment. The connection between the data centers is 40 gigabits per second.

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