Alaska Airlines: Case Study
Alaska airlines was started in the year 1932 as McGee airways. It is aligned with star air service in 1934 and later evolved as a biggest air service provider in Alaska which gradually became Alaska airlines. It progressed from a zonal airline to international carries. It carries around 44 million people across 118 destinations. It is the fifth biggest U.S. Airline depending on the metrics of passenger flow and as one of the popular U.S. West coast air carriers. It has been in the leading position in the aviation industry in the aspect of customer-centric airways. It was collaborated with the virgin America in the year 2016. With this collaboration two of the countries favourite airlines unified. It increased the customer base of the Alaska. It is running nearly around 1200 daily flights from. Most bookings are made from the west coast and more than $7 billon revenue is generated (Alaska airlines, June 2018).
Alaska airlines dedicated to the “Creating an Airline People Love” by connecting the people through technology. It wants to become a digital airline which requires a platform which can convert the ideas into large scale implementation with very little upfront cost. They believe that it can be achieved through migrating to the cloud. Alaska airlines became a high-flyer by paying a detailed attention toward user requirements in every aspect from online searches to in-flight comforts to departure and arrivals. It is evident that Alaska is providing the world-class service in delivering people and in delivering software. It thrived to give new and exciting features to the users by giving the lowest fares which helps the airlines in achieving the highly satisfied users and the higher revenues. The most critical application of Alaska airlines is shopping cart API which is a front door for most of its operations. In this fast pace world, it was just a few clicks away to lose the customers. So, Alaska always tried to make sure that their applications are having high availability, high scalability and high security.
“Our market is incredibly competitive, and we’re constantly forming new airline partnerships and offering new services to stay out front,” says Ralph Feltis, Senior Software Engineer, E-Commerce, at Alaska Airlines
Cloud Adoption Framework:
Cloud adoption framework is a step by step process in adopting the cloud services in an organisation. It helps in finding the business requirements, cloud services and strategies for implementing the cloud services. It involves the four stages which are explained in detail below.
Align Business & Cloud Strategies:
Alaska airlines wants to impart the new features to their customers and to minimise their operations. This website alaskaair.com helps customers to book reservations, manage their bookings, getting customer assistance and more. While making the booking customers provide banking credentials and personal details so they want to build a secure application. They implemented the mobile services, so they made their application architecture in API driven strategy. API’s helps in reusing the automating scaling of the services individually. They also help in accessing the services irrespective of the devices the customer is using.
a) Performance Efficiency:
A great software experience for the users begin with the good software. In the today competitive world it’s very difficult to sustain in the business if they are not fast enough. When the customers looking for the lowest fares they will launch and check on various websites. To not to lose the customers they should provide fastest, most accurate information through their services. So, Alaska decided to build its new e commerce in the cloud.
“We want to get new offers and online shopping functionality into customers hands as soon as possible and to make the shopping process as seamless and fast as possible” says Ralph Feltis, Senior Software Engineer, E-Commerce, at Alaska Airlines.
Feltis team look after all the services of online shopping experience such as front door of the application(alaskaair.com), ticket purchasing system. All these features are incorporated in shopping cart application which is most critical application which requires high availability and high performance. To keep the e commerce application new and innovative every time there should be continuous software development and continuous deployment of new code. In 2014 e commerce team of Alaska took a period of one month to push new code into production which can be done in a less period by migrating to cloud. So, Alaska airlines decided to make the build-deployment cycle even faster and accurate.
b) Operational Excellence:
The major hindrance of Alaska airlines is its large monolithic e-commerce application(alaskaair.com). To deploy any new functionality into the code they need to redeploy the entire application which takes a large amount of time to do testing and quality assurance of the application.
“We knew that to move faster, we had to replace this complex, monolithic application with smaller chunks of code that we could improve on a faster cadence” Feltis says.
They have their monolithic application running on their on-premise servers for years. To reuse and increase the agility of certain functions the application team started to divide the application into small segments. Over the period with the increase in the customer base and the mobile application users they need the more infrastructure to meet the customer needs. It has experienced performance issues and loss of customer base due to limited infrastructure on their on-premises. The shopping cart application is not a CPU intensive application. So, it needs a horizontal scaling when there is an increase in demand.
There are certain challenges raised due to outgoing pace of customers demand. They want to scale up the availability of their systems when there is a demand. There are many performance issues occurred due to third part API’s and various other downstream dependencies. They thought the immediate resolution to address this issue is to scale up the resources horizontally. For a critical application like shopping cart API it is very important they should have high availability. If there is any downtime in application, it will cause a loss of revenue and the users will be unsatisfied. To fix this issue, they need a solution that would cover the below factors.
- To have the DevOps Environment to do continuous integration and continuous development.
- To have the services that running both on cloud and on premise.
Rapid Discovery & Planning:
a) Base IT capabilities:
As there is no data over the public domain about on premises infrastructure of Alaska, an assumption was made that one of their large critical applications e-commerce is running on their on-premise servers and datacentre. They want to scale up their infrastructure as they have increased their customer base with the purchase of virgin America. They also launched a mobile centric service for their users from which their services can also be accessed through mobile and website. As Alaska airlines used to operate in more than 140 countries it is used to depend on the local on-premise infrastructure to perform multiple functions. These resources used to cause a conflict during migration, upgrades etc. So, to address these they thought implement the cloud.
b) Cloud Infrastructure:
Alaska airlines has built and running its rigid application on on-premise servers. But with the increase in the users and to enhance its built-deploy cycle it adopted the microservices and products of Microsoft azure. Microservices helps in breaking the giant application code base into small segments. Containers powered by the dockers helps in building these microservices in separate environments which are easy to use and set up. Alaska airlines can opt Microsoft azure because most of its code base is written in ASP.NET which run on Microsoft internet information services and due to flexibility in scaling up the resources during peak demand stage. Alaska used many other services like Azure Storage, Azure Virtual Network, Azure Redis Cache, Azure Functions, Azure Load Balancer, Azure Application Insights, Azure key vault and Azure DevOps to meet their business requirements and to increase their operational efficiency (Microsoft, 2017).
Azure load balancer: It helps in maintaining the high availability by uniformly distributing the traffic between the virtual machines.
Azure Key Vault: It helps in protecting the passwords and encryption keys during execution time and continuous deployment.
Azure Redis Cache: It is used as a cache to increase performance by quickly accessing the most accessed data. It is the fast storage that is located near to the application. With azure cache we can achieve low latency and high-throughput performance.
Azure Application Insights: It helps to supervise the web applications and to examine the production deviations. It is designed to increase the performance and usability. It integrates with DevOps and helps in diagnosing the issues.
Azure service fabric: It is an application platform that helps to build and manage the microservices structure applications which helps the developers to focus on code that delivers business values thereby the customers get the new features faster.
Azure container repository: It is used to store and manage the docker container images
Figure1: Azure services in Shopping cart architecture
To meet the expectations such as automate scaling of the resources, smooth and trouble-free shifting between the cloud and on-premise environments services of VMware are used such as the VMware hypervisor (ESXi), vRealize Operations (vROPS), and other VM products. vROPS is a tool that helps in providing the efficiency of the virtual resources. It helps in scaling up and building the ESXi hosts with the capacity alerts produced by vROPS. With the information provided by vROPS the infrastructure team interacts with the development team to optimise their environments thereby making sure that the applications are working efficiently. It is very helpful in managing a big virtual network. In the year 2018 they got the requirement of additional thirty percent across all the environments due to integration with the virgin America. With the help of automation solution, they provisioned all these resources within the span of one day where as in the previous process it used to take weeks to accomplish this task. With the help of scaling resources automatically we can reduce the risk of human error and configuration drift. To address the specific issues such as network security, Disaster recovery Alaska used the new technology Hybrid cloud extension (HCX) announced by VMware. HCX enables the layer 2 networks which prevent the re-factor the workloads. It can also be used as disaster recovery (DRaaS) which helps to migrate the application from a failed environment to healthy environment (Jude, 2019).
Realize & Sustain Business Value:
The Alaska e commerce team and Microsoft team brainstormed together and came up with a solution to deploy on azure cloud. Development team developed a sample service using microservice architecture and they deployed in the cloud. It migrated the less critical application at first in order the build the confidence among the business partners and delivery teams. They progressed the deploy the more critical application with each iteration.
During the shifting of shopping cart application there is an obstruction raised as the dockers containers run on the LINUX environments. But the Shopping cart application of Alaska is completely using the .NET architecture. The azure team and e commerce team has come up with a solution of using Containers and Azure service fabric which helps the application to transfer easily into a docker.
“When we release code to Azure, it’s one clicks to production. Distributing that code to all our production servers takes eight or nine minutes with Azure Service Fabric versus two hours on-premises.”- Ralph Feltis: Senior Software Engineer
Alaska airlines pushed its application code to the docker of windows server container that runs on Microsoft azure VM’s. Service fabric is the orchestration tools that helps in managing virtual machines. It also used the Azure API management to migrate between the on-premise servers and the cloud. It acts as a hybrid enabler that helps in migrating from azure to on-premise and vice versa.
Alaska uses the azure key vault service to secure the docker images and passwords. It also uses the Azure DevOps for the continuous integration and development of the application. For the large application to deploy the new feature they need the redeploy the entire application code which takes several days. But with the help of azure DevOps it can be achieved within the hours. The faster deployment capability helps in providing the new features of the website quickly enhancing the user happiness there by increase in the revenue.
“We’ve found it very easy to modify our release pipeline for microservices using Azure DevOps,” Feltis says.
On moving to the cloud, the most critical application shopping cart has achieved the zero downtime with the aid of service fabric. It is used to find out the fault node and they are replaced by healthy nodes automatically. By using the service fabric cluster, the reduced the deployment times of the API from twenty minutes to ten seconds. With the service fabric If there are issues with the deployments it will rollback automatically to the previous version. The shopping cart application need the horizontal scaling such as adding the additional virtual resources when there is an increase in customer base. They use the service fabric metrics to scale up automatically. The nodes in the cluster are scaled up independently depending on the inflow of the requests and there will be a payment only for the resources that are used. It became very feasible to test and deploy the services on to the container with the help of service fabric. Service fabric explores tool will give live status of the node which helps in checking the efficiency of the node. With the help of the containers the testing can be done very easily. Even the testing can be done locally, and it can be loaded onto the cloud within very less time. By running its e-commerce engine in Azure in hybrid fashion, Alaska can also scale more easily and cost-effectively, ensuring its sites run at the optimum point of performance and cost (Microsoft, 2018).
Innovate & Transform:
Alaska successfully migrated its most critical shopping cart API to azure service fabric cluster and it is working efficiently on the cloud environment. This migration motivated the different development teams of the alaskaair.com to shift their services to azure. In the future Alaska decided to move its hundred other API’s of alaskaair.com with the successful shifting of shopping cart application. In future they want to build their application on cloud. The development team are more involved in building the applications depending on the customer requirements without having any concerns about the deploying.
They want to use the new products of VMware in the future to build the innovative automation. They have improved their hybrid cloud approach with VMware and they want to make the thought of multi datacentre vision into a reality with the help of VMware in the future. With the strategic partnership with the VMware they want to create scalable and high available cloud environment which helps their development teams in building the applications that their customers need. With the integration with VM ware they want to eliminate the on-premises issues such as scaling up the resources when there is a demand and trouble-free migration between the cloud and the on-premise. Alaska end goal is to provide the cloud like capabilities so that development team are not worried about the environment they are running on. It can be attained by the hybrid cloud powered by the VMware which provides the features and benefits that meet their business requirements (Peterson, 2019).
In the future Alaska airlines wants to focus on the cost optimisation factor as the airlines is a low margin industry. They want to continuously monitor the cloud solutions to optimise the cost of infrastructure. They want to reduce the cost by replacing the static test environments with the ephemeral infrastructure, the environment which disappears after completion of testing. They want to analyse the metrics of cost for the entire computing cycle to find the performance of the system and cost optimisation areas, thereby to eliminate and turning off the unused resources.
Alaska airlines is a customer-centric, technology-driven company. It is the fifth largest U.S. airline. It has increased its customer base with take up of the Virgin America airlines in 2014 and with implementation of its mobile service. They want to make their shopping easier for their customers with the faster flow of new e-commerce features. They want to evolve as a digital airline which requires a platform which can deploy new features fast and accurate with little upfront cost. Alaska airlines want to build a fully elastic and functional cloud which helps their team to deliver the best experience to the users. They want to build a platform like which can scale automatically when there is a peak demand, and which can switch smoothly between the different clouds.
Cloud make it possible to meet the all the business factors of Alaska airlines. In this document we presented the Alaska airlines cloud adoption journey. We described the four stages of the cloud adoption frame work. The services of Azure such as Service fabric and Windows service container they can push out their new features immediately which is a big win for Alaska airlines. VMware services helped the eliminate the traditional infrastructure challenges which enables the future of seamless mobility between any cloud. By adopting the Azure cloud services and VMware services can scale more easily, cost effectively by ensuring its site will run at optimum point of performance and cost.
Alaska wants to advance into the future where most of their website and the applications will be running on the cloud to achieve the happier customers and higher revenues.
- Alaska airlines, June 2018. Company information. [Online] Available at: https://newsroom.alaskaair.com/company-information [Accessed 06 April 2019].
- Jude, M., 2019. Harnessing the Hybrid Cloud with VMWare. [Online] Available at: https://vmware.cioreview.com/cxoinsight/harnessing-the-hybrid-cloud-with-vmware-nid-26799-cid-71.html [Accessed 04 April 2019].
- Microsoft, 2017. Service Fabric Customer Profile. [Online] Available at: https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/azureservicefabric/2017/10/18/service-fabric-customer-profile-alaska-airlines/ [Accessed 03 April 2019].
- Microsoft, 2018. Alaska airline travel transportation azure. [Online] Available at: https://customers.microsoft.com/en-us/story/alaska-airlines-travel-transportation-azure [Accessed 05 April 2019].
- Peterson, B., 2019. Cloud – A Thoughtful Journey. [Online] Available at: https://cloud.cioapplications.com/cxoinsights/cloud-a-thoughtful-journey-alaska-airlines-journey-to-cloud-computing-nid-2658.html [Accessed 03 April 2019].