Airline Now Has Technology that Also Flies
Qualica Technologies is a South African-based, international provider of optimized network and application services and solutions. The company develops specialized Internet applications that deliver measurable business value to blue-chip clients in diverse industries including aviation, financial services, healthcare, energy and chemicals, and media and entertainment.
One of Qualica’s clients – 1time Airline – engaged Qualica with a seemingly simple but mission-critical request. 1time, South Africa’s premier low-cost carrier does business exclusively via its website, and needed to improve the performance, reliability and scalability of its end-to-end e-commerce platform. As a company that does business directly with its customers via its website, as opposed to a network of travel agents or online brokerages, its online reservation and back-end transaction processing and accounting systems have to be up and running 24/7. If the system goes down or performance is not meeting customers’ expectations, the company’s business suffers dramatically.
1time has grown very rapidly, outgrowing its initial IT systems. At one point, the online system went down for a prolonged period of time, during which no flights or revenue could be booked. This was a clear red flag that a new and improved system was required and led 1time to engage Qualica to develop and implement that system.
“Our charge,” explains Kezia Cousins, operations director at Qualica, “was to develop a new end-to-end IT system that would provide 1time with the continuous availability, high performance and scalability the airline required to remain competitive and meet the expectations of its growing customer base, and to do so in a very cost-effective way. We designed and built this system, which spanned the functionality and infrastructure for the front-end customer Website , the company’s call center and its back-end accounting and management applications using a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model. The system was also designed to provide flight departure functionality including check-in and the issuance of boarding passes. Essentially, it provided all the functionality needed from ticket sales to passenger boarding and printing of flight manifests.”
To power this comprehensive, absolutely mission-critical system, Qualica deployed multiple Adaptive Server Enterprise (ASE) databases from Sybase.
Sybase ASE Delivers the Required Performance, Scalability and Reliability
In building the 1time system, Qualica used Dell blade servers to provide the hardware scalability the airline required to support future growth (currently, the blade chassis is only half populated). It then created a virtual environment using VMWare to optimize the cost effectiveness of the hardware and the system as a whole. Currently running in this virtual environment are a variety of application servers as well as database servers running ASE on Windows server 2008.
“The primary operational ASE server sits in a high availability cluster behind the application servers,” says Cousins. “We use a lot of stored procedures to achieve maximum efficiency and performance. To ensure high availability, we also have another ASE running on an offsite server in a disaster recovery center. That ASE database is kept in sync by Sybase Replication Server, providing the failover capability required to support 1time’s online business model.”
According to Michael Kaminski, 1time IT director, "The redundancy of the system has been tested with bookings rising to five times their normal levels during a special promotion. The back-end has remained stable with the only noticeable difference having been a slightly slower Website during such exaggerated booking levels.”
The stability and performance of the Sybase-powered systems not only increases the capacity for online booking, but it enables Qualica to work on new, additional functionality for the back-end. This includes Web services to allow third party access into the back-end, an engine for corporate bookings, an SMS engine to keep customers informed, and a reporting engine for financial, marketing and operational reports.
This additional back-end functionality results in significantly reduced call center volumes, as customers are able to book online using the system’s self-service functionality. By empowering the customer to do their own queries and bookings, booking costs are reduced, as are the number of booking errors, as customers now fill out their own information on the site.
Online bookings now comprise 90 percent of all interactions, and the Sybase-powered platform has proven to be completely stable.
ASE Chosen for Rock Solid Reliability and High Performance
“In evaluating database engines to power this comprehensive airline business platform, we looked at a number of products,” says Cousins. “We’re primarily an open source house, but we found that open source options such as MySQL couldn’t meet our performance and scalability criteria. Other options like Oracle were simply too expensive. We’ve had a lot of experience with Sybase and always found it to be reliable. It has always been rock solid and its performance and scalability are excellent.”
“Thanks to Sybase, We’ve Achieved the Performance Gain We Intended”
The new end-to-end system has been successfully deployed for 1Time Airline where it is the backbone of the airline’s sales and revenue management divisions. It provides a stable system that maintains very good performance at booking levels of up to five times normal loads. The medium-sized installation can handle up to 20 bookings per second, and the system’s architecture allows it to scale quickly, easily and seamlessly.
“Thanks to Sybase, we’ve achieved the performance gain we intended when we began this engagement with 1time,” says Cousins. “1time now has the ability to handle about four times the volume of business traffic as before and the system is designed to deliver a lot more when it’s needed. At the present time, we aren’t anywhere near the limits of the system as currently implemented. As 1time continues to grow, we’ll be able to scale to support that growth.”
Additionally, because Qualica doesn’t have to worry about the reliability of ASE, it is able to place much greater focus on application enhancements. It is now planning the next round of features designed to help 1time further increase revenue growth.
Qualica is also looking at additional Sybase database technology, such as its ASE In-memory Databases Option, the Sybase complex event processing (CEP) platform and Sybase mobile technology to provide 1time and other Qualica clients with technology improvements that can give them the competitive edge they all desire.
“We’ve been working with Sybase technology for seven or eight years now,” says Cousins, “and I think the one word to describe the technology is dependable. In our business when something stops working, it’s absolutely the last thing you want. We spend all of our engineering time to make sure that doesn’t happen. So the fact that we know we can rely on Sybase means we have one less thing to worry about in delivering effective, reliable solutions to our clients.”