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11/29/2013
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NoSQL Stars In Travel Giant's Platform Upgrade

Couchbase NoSQL database will be the cornerstone of new real-time inventory management platform for Amadeus, a top provider of travel search, pricing, booking, and ticketing services.

Think of the tens of millions of travelers frantically searching, pricing, and booking flights, rental cars, and hotel rooms in the run-up to this week's Thanksgiving Day holiday. Now think of the scale of the IT required behind the scenes to make it all happen online. Amadeus, one of the top global providers of online travel search, pricing, booking, and ticketing services, is in the midst of a technology refresh, and it revealed earlier this month that the Couchbase NoSQL database will be the cornerstone of its real-time inventory management platform.

Headquartered in Madrid, Amadeus is the European-based competitor to the US-based Sabre system, but it does business all over the globe, working with more than 700 airlines, 95 railways, 30 car rental companies, 50 cruise lines, and 100,000 hotel properties. It has a two-part technology platform supporting real-time search and pricing of inventory, on the one hand, and booking and ticketing on the other.

[ What effect is big data having on airlines and hotels? Read "Big Data Analysis Drives Revolution In Travel." ]

Amadeus is implementing Couchbase for real-time inventory management. This platform faces a continuous onslaught of searches and pricing requests from more than 92,000 travel agencies and 70,000 airline sales outlets, including big online booking sites such as Expedia and search sites such as Kayak.com. The platform has to keep up with peak loads of more than 2 million requests per second, all while ensuring that travelers see only the most up-to-date pricing and availability information.

"Determining availability and price would seem pretty simple, but in reality that's determined by complex revenue-management algorithms that assess whether a given flight might get higher yields later in the selling process," explained Dietmar Fauser, VP of architecture, quality and governance, Amadeus IT Group, in an interview with InformationWeek. The incumbent parallel-query system was built on the combination of the open-source Memcached distributed memory caching system backed up by MySQL databases running on fast Fusion-io solid-state disk storage. That system has been in place since 2008, but it has not been easy to maintain, according to Fauser.

"This environment is pretty complex from an operational management point of view, particularly when you have to resize the system to add capacity," he said, describing scaling up as an error-prone process akin to a data-migration project.

Couchbase will provide the in-memory caching of Memcached and the persistence of MySQL in a single environment, according to Fauser. Amadeus has been working with Couchbase since early 2013 and the resulting pilot system has been up and running for two months. "Couchbase offers very sophisticated, high-speed capabilities to write persistent data and it also offers the ability to automatically rebalance the data when you add new capacity," Fauser said.

Ticket shoppers often do multiple searches to pull up and compare flights, cars, and hotel rooms. It's clearly a high-scale application with unique demands. The actual booking of tickets, cars, and rooms is a smaller-scale task -- 3 million booking per day at Amadeus vs. up to 2 million requests per second in the inventory-management environment. However, bookings aren't something that Fauser is ready to trust to any NoSQL database.

"We're very strict on design when it comes to consistency levels, so when we have a sales transaction, we use Oracle so we have fully consistent, ACID transactions," he said. "The relational model is kind of dated, but I would be very careful with not having an environment that has very strong recoverability and consistency features."

Amadeus is also being cautious about the rollout of the Couchbase replacement for Memcached and MySQL, planning plenty of testing and a staged rollout that won't see full production until the second half of next year.

"With very large applications you have to bring it gradually into production so it's not a big bang," Fauser said.

IT groups need data analytics software that's visual and accessible. Vendors are getting the message. Also in the State Of Analytics issue of InformationWeek: SAP CEO envisions a younger, greener, cloudier company. (Free registration required.)

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Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
12/2/2013 | 2:21:29 AM
Re: The Case For ACID Transactions
For the transactions/applications demanding high ACID capability, I would still prefer traditional RDBMS such as Oracle. The NoSQL DB grows very fast and there is good product such as MongoDB in the market. But in my opinion, we need to see more outstanding prove that the DB is really good at ACID compliance as its relational ancestors. Furthermore, the performance of RDBMS is satisfactory in most of the cases. At the moment personally I would prefer RDBMS for application areas with strict ACID requirement.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
11/29/2013 | 8:52:26 AM
The Case For ACID Transactions
Fauser said Amadeus employs Oracle Database much like a key value store, using just two columns per table. Nonetheless, it's the ACID (atomic, consistent, isolated, durable) transaction hurdle that keeps him from using NoSQL products for the booking (financial) transactions. This seems to support the arguement of several NewSQL vendors that say they combine the scalability of NoSQL with the ACID transaction compliance of relational databases. What's your comfort level with NoSQL vs NewSQL vs. relational? 
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