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.
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