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Starwood Hotels Continues Its Migration From Mainframe To Services-Oriented Architecture

Finding the right tools to manage and monitor as many as 150 SOA applications is proving critical to the project's success.
Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc., the 750-unit chain that includes Sheratons, Westins, and the trendy W hotel lines, used to depend on Cobol-based room reservations and Preferred Guest loyalty applications running on an IBM mainframe.

Now Starwood's room-reservation system is the most visible component of the company's effort to replace those legacy systems with a services-oriented architecture. By this time next year, Tom Conophy, executive VP and chief technology officer, plans to pull the plug on his mainframe and Cobol applications entirely and rely instead on 150 applications or "services" built around Web-services standards.

Half of those services already have been created in Java 2 Enterprise Edition. And getting this far into the project has convinced Conophy of one thing -- generating services isn't enough. "We knew we had to manage services better," he says.

Conophy is the former chief architect at Sabre Holdings Corp., which moved its own systems off an IBM mainframe. He was determined to do likewise at Starwood and adopt commodity hardware running HP-UX and Linux.

With both room reservations and Starwood's Preferred Guests customer-loyalty program running as Web services, he needs to manage a large and growing set of services.

"I wanted non-intrusive management tools. Maintaining a low latency (in service-response time) is a key criteria for us," Conophy says. Among other things, with 25 million guest profiles stored in his Oracle databases, he wanted to know how the reservation and Preferred Guest services were running as they generated hits against the database systems. He also wanted a management tool "that didn't take a PhD to configure."

His staff test drove tools from Actional, AmberPoint, and SOA Software. Eighteen months ago, none of the vendors' tools would have met his criteria. "The overhead was too high and the functionality was missing," he says.

Starwood ended up choosing Actional's SOAPstation XML routing and monitoring tool and Looking Glass Server management console. The Actional tools added only 50 milliseconds of delay to the services' performance, he says.

Actional Looking Glass provides the services management and troubleshooting that he was looking for, he says. Its configuration is wizard-driven and it can map service interdependencies and set policies for monitoring service-level agreements. It manages upgrades, system rollbacks, and service retirements.

By the end of October, Starwood will be implementing services that take over the work of the last of its mainframe applications. They will go through a quality assurance and shakedown period before the final switchover. The services are documented using Systinet Corp.'s Registry software.

The staff not only creates the services but must stay on top of where and how they're running. Says Conophy, "We've got to manage an enterprise that's fully services-enabled."