How the travel industry is flying the flag for cloud computing

Remember the times when you used to go down to your local travel agent and return home with a pile of brochures a foot high which you then spent days leafing through to find your dream holiday?

These days there’s no time to sit gazing at all those glossy shots of glistening sands, palm trees and infinity pools. Instead it’s a short click to a website to punch in details of your family, your holiday dates and your budget while a quick search reveals the available destinations …in a sense the holiday probably picks you now rather than the other way round.

The burgeoning of cheap flights and price comparison sites means the internet is now the shop window for all your holiday requirements.

As the internet has created this magical way to widen your holiday or travel company’s customer base so it has meant that making sure your website is fully available every minute, of every day, from anywhere in the world, has become crucial to maintaining your revenue streams.

One trend that is becoming apparent is the steady rise in the number of travel and holiday companies looking for scalable and reliable support for their online presence. Indeed the travel sector as a whole seems to be leading the way when it comes to moving to the cloud.

Accessing flexible computing power via the cloud allows them to scale up the number of servers available at times of seasonal rush, such as for school holidays or Christmas, and scale back down again when the spike recedes and demand isn’t quite so high. It also gives them the ability to move fast to launch new products without incurring large additional costs or delays. All this means greater efficiency, lower energy use and a smaller carbon footprint.

One such travel company that has made the cloud transition is Skyscanner. The UK-based company specialises in cheap flights and deals on over 600 airlines, competing for airspace with fellow search engine providers such as ebookers and expedia. The company’s website is visited by over 14 million people every month, is available in 27 languages, and has recently reached peak traffic capacity, leading to a call to arms for help with the demand for its service.

Phil Dalbeck, Infrastructure Architect at Skyscanner, explains: “Migrating from a traditional physical infrastructure platform to a fully virtualised private cloud provides the business agility Skyscanner needs to support our exceptional growth. Capacity planning is no longer the headache it once was, and the business can now expect to see additional server resources deployed within minutes rather than weeks.”

Many analysts predicted that the smaller SME would form the cloud ‘hot spot’ and that larger organisations would be somewhat reluctant to embrace the concept, but this is now appearing to be wide of the mark.

If the travel sector is indicative of other industries, then we are witnessing a sea change in attitude towards cloud computing. Not only is this sector embracing the benefits of scalability, cost reduction and flexibility for its own consumption but it also utilising the cloud for new services and products to offer its customers, as evidenced by airline giant Lufthansa. The company has developed CloudStream, a cloud-based service which enables its passenger’s to create a ‘playlist’ of assorted cached content prior to departure, which can then be enjoyed once onboard via the airline’s FlyNet Internet access.

In its 2010 Annual Report, the airline opens with: “Even as the global economy picks up again, companies in all industries are faced with the challenge of cutting their costs sustainably and improving their adaptability in a volatile economic environment. One prerequisite for doing so is further optimisation of business processes, for which the IT sector plays a key role, irrespective of the industry.”

The report then states: “Airlines are faced with a particular need to increase their efficiency and flexibility in order to combat competitive pressure and price erosion. There is nevertheless no sign that IT spending in the airline industry will increase significantly in the years ahead. The overall IT market is under considerable and sustained pressure to change as a result of many factors.

“Key technological drivers are cutting-edge technologies such as tablet PCs and cloud computing. However, by making targeted investments in IT infrastructure and product development, Lufthansa Systems is nevertheless creating the conditions for its customers to benefit from the advantages of new technologies.”

In a couple of paragraphs, the airline has succinctly and overtly made a case for cloud. The travel industry may have been subjected to economic pressures rather more quickly than some other sectors – many consumers consider holidays a luxury item when money is tight – but it certainly has been quick to address the situation, and cloud is forming an important element of its recovery plans.

Who would have thought a few years ago that the industry whose services we all use to seek sun, sand and sangria would be welcoming the arrival of clouds?

Phil Worms is the director of corporate communications for iomart Group, one of Europe’s largest providers of managed hosting, cloud computing and business continuity services. Having spent 25 years working in the IT industry he is recognised as one of its brightest thinkers. He regularly contributes internet and "new media" related features for trade publications and national newspapers and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is an advocate of social media using it for both business and charitable causes. Phil has sat on several national advisory committees ranging from the provision of broadband access to online safety initiatives. He is now heavily involved in the debate surrounding the greening of IT with energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction a particular topic of interest. In his spare time Phil is dedicated to raising money in an attempt to bring a new arts and music centre to his hometown of Helensburgh. It is this venture that has given him his finest moment – being mentioned on David Bowie’s official website when he organised a mass community recording of the classic song Heroes!