Horizon Power Selects Red Hat to Ensure Safety and Reliability of Mission-Critical Electrical Network

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May 17, 2012

Red Hat® Enterprise Virtualization ® enabled the utility power house to provide its office and field teams with easy access to mission-critical networks.

Customer: Horizon Power

"Not only is the user experience noticeably faster, but Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization and the SPICE protocol provided improved virtual desktop screen resolution.” Bob Good, SCADA Coordinator, Horizon Power

Geography: APAC
Country: Australia


Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Desktops 2.2 and 3.0
Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Servers 2.2 and 3.0
Red Hat Enterprise Linux® 6
Electrical Network Management and Control (ENMAC) developed by General Electric


Servers: HP C3000 blade enclosures, Proliant BL460 G7 servers, HP Proliant DL380 G5 servers, HP Proliant DL380 G6 servers Networking: Cisco switches, HP ProCurve switches Storage: QNAP TS-859U-RP+ NAS, HP P4500 left hand ISCSI SAN


Horizon Power is Western Australia’s regional and remote electricity provider. A state government-owned, commercially-focused corporation, Horizon Power provides quality, safe, and reliable power to more than 100,000 residents and 9,000 businesses, including major industry, across regional Western Australia. It is a unique energy utility in that it is responsible for the generation, procurement, distribution, and retailing of electricity. Horizon Power manages two major interconnected systems, the North West Interconnected System (NWIS) in the Pilbara and the interconnected transmission network between Kununurra and Wyndham, as well as 36 non-interconnected (or islanded) systems in regional towns and remote communities. It services every part of the state outside the south west corner--2.3 million square kilometres covering the Kimberley, Pilbara, Gascoyne, Mid West, and Southern Goldfields (including Esperance, Norseman, and Hopetoun) regions. Horizon Power is proud of its passion and ability to deliver safe and reliable supplies in the most challenging of environments. The energy systems it operates are exposed to everything from intense heat and cyclonic conditions in the north to ravaging storms in the south. Horizon Power operates from a head office in Karratha, with an administrative centre based in Perth. It also has offices in Kununurra, Broome, Port Hedland, Carnarvon, and Esperance.

Business Challenge:

Supporting Critical Systems with Sophisticated Virtualization Technology
Since 2009, Horizon Power has been successfully operating Red Hat Enterprise Linux-based virtualisation in its production environment. A company restructure produced an increase in Horizon’s remote workforce and the company needed a virtualisation solution that would provide greater flexibility, ease of use, and could enable shared storage across all of its locations.

“Additional virtualisation requirements emerged as we were asked to provide access to the Electrical Network Management and Control (ENMAC) system, which is a mission-critical system used to manage the electricity transmission from power stations to end users,” said Colin Coe, systems administrator, Horizon Power.

“This was a real challenge because ENMAC is in an isolated, secure network and server configuration and is not part of our wider corporate IT network. We have always kept a tight control on the network and only a select number of users have access to it. In the end, we knew we had a challenge on our hands,” said Coe. “This translated into demanding requirements since ENMAC needed to be virtualised very securely,” said Coe. The extreme, mission-critical nature of the ENMAC system meant that the Horizon Power team had to be completely confident that they would remain in control of the network once the upgrade took place. If the technology upgrade was successful, it would ultimately result in better service to field staff and Horizon’s end users.


Powering Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Technology
After conducting a thorough virtualisation comparison between Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization and VMware, Horizon Power made the decision to implement Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 2.2, based on its superior results. Not only did the technology prove to be significantly less expensive, it was also simpler to set up and manage, and used open standards with no vendor lock-in.

“Installing Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization solved an immediate need to provide access to network software that, due to geography, couldn’t have been granted otherwise,” said Coe. “Our top priorities were enabling functionality and doing it quickly. Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization addressed these two points effectively.” Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 2.2 was introduced into a production environment based on a mix of HP DL380G5 and DL380G6 servers, using a QNAP 859RU as the backend iSCSI storage system.


Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.0 Flexibility Transitions to Increase Efficiency for Workers
Within six months of utilising Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 2.2, Horizon Power provided off-site staff access to the mission-critical ENMAC network. Following its participation in the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.0 beta program, Horizon Power decided to further expand its Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization footprint by transitioning its production and development environments from Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 2.2 to Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.0.

Horizon Power’s Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.0 environment is built using HP C3000 blade enclosures with nine Proliant BL460 G7 servers. The Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization cluster at Horizon Power is being used to support both virtual servers and as well as virtual desktops, which together make up the client-server ENMAC deployment. With multiple engineering workstations requiring access to critical server-based systems for ENMAC, Citect, WinSOS, and other SCADA software, the entire virtualised server infrastructure comprises a mixture of Windows servers and Red Hat Enterprise Linux servers.

The virtual desktop infrastructure includes the use of virtualised Microsoft Windows XP and Windows 7 desktops, delivered to end users via the SPICE remote rendering protocol. Currently, half of the Active Directory servers are virtualised, along with the ENMAC servers, anti-virus servers, WSUS servers, web servers, and DNS server. Additional workloads that have been virtualised include internally developed web services, ticketing system (Trouble Ticket Express), monitoring systems (Xymon), and MySQL databases.

“Right from the beginning of the beta trial of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.0, we were able to see significant improvements,” said Bob Good, SCADA Coordinator, Horizon Power. “Not only is the user experience noticeably faster, but Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization for Desktops and the SPICE network protocol provided improved virtual desktop screen resolution. Plus, the fact that it runs on the same Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) hypervisor as Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 means we’ll have several years’ worth of kernel improvements contributing to new upgrades and updates to Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.0.”

Because the company is a power utility, safety and reliability are paramount and there’s no room for business error. “The technology we use is absolutely critical because the entire organisation–-as well as the wider population of power consumers–-relies on our ENMAC system to understand the power network and accurately report any safety issues,” said Coe.

“We believe there’s one sure way to judge the quality of a platform–-Linux or any other–-and that’s by how much third-party protection is needed. Red Hat doesn’t require any anti-virus protection from third parties, just some patching now and then, which it releases itself. That’s just one reason why we have trusted Red Hat as an integral part of our infrastructure for a number [of] years,” said Coe.

Horizon Power’s virtual desktops are deployed to end users via the Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization User Portal. All virtual desktops are located in the secure SCADA network and users access their own individualised virtual desktop by using the integrated connection broker. Because its engineers do a lot of site work, and may be required to work on systems at a different remote site, it’s critical that the virtual desktops are accessible anywhere on the Horizon Power network.

Users across Horizon Power are already recognising the value of Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization. Specifically, those users accessing Windows 7 and Windows XP virtual desktops are suddenly benefiting from new levels of functionality without the need to travel to Horizon’s head office. This flexibility adds value to employees by making them more efficient in their roles, which in turn, adds more value to their team.

“We are now giving additional users a glimpse into our new Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization 3.0 infrastructure and the benefits are becoming even more obvious, especially compared with our VMware trial,” said Coe. “We didn’t see the same functionality from VMware--it was overly complex and the licensing model seemed confusing and extremely costly. It certainly wasn’t as intuitive as Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization has proven to be.”

A Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE®) since 2005, Coe has had a fair amount of experience with Red Hat. However, he admits that most people still don’t know how often their lives intersect with Linux technology. “It’s quite ironic. Linux touches us all in so many ways, every day, yet most of us have no idea.

From the phones we rely on to the traffic lights we stop for–-most things we use regularly have some degree of Linux as their make-up, and it’s Linux that ensures they work as reliably as they do,” said Coe. “I will continue to trust Linux and rely on Red Hat for my technology strategy for years to come.

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