Do Smarter Airports Belong on the Cloud?


Smarter-Airport-CloudAirports are in a tough business. Consider the challenges they face:

  • They must deal with heightened security demands while minimizing the disruption of operations.
  • They are under severe cost pressure, limiting their ability to modernize and expand.
  • They have to comply with unexpected security regulations and their associated costs.
  • The airlines routinely demand lower airport fees.
  • Airline passengers want improvement in their overall passenger experience.

Airport operators also face significant information system challenges. They have spent decades adding new applications to the existing portfolio solutions. These solutions, often point-to-point, as illustrated in the figure below, are the result of the integration of new requirements over time. Each new application may negatively impact older applications: a new application may follow different alerting protocols or data models than older applications. The siloed nature of these established applications makes airport collaborative decision making more difficult to achieve.

Point-to-Point Diagram

A First-Generation, Point-to-Point Solution

The result is a complex and brittle applications and operations environment that is resistant to change. The problems with application interoperability inhibit real-time information sharing and collaboration. In addition, airports need to improve scalable efficiency to deal with “irregular operations” (IRROPS) and other unplanned events. A blinding snowstorm stresses airport operations and the information systems infrastructure supporting them. Ideally, this infrastructure would be highly scalable and reconfigurable to meet the challenges of each IRROPS event—a characteristic that a decades-old, layered architecture is often able to support only with difficulty.

Fortunately airports are not the first business to encounter these technical challenges. Service-oriented architectures (SOAs) that include enterprise service buses (ESBs) are commonly used to integrate established business applications, enabling standard message and data models (such as IBM’s Smart Airport Enabler), as well as much greater flexibility in defining and evolving business processes.

An SOA is a large step in the right direction for some airports. But it does not solve several additional problems:

  • Many airports have acquired a proliferation of platforms and middleware over the years.
  • Budget-constrained IT staffs are stretched thin to cover the applications and infrastructure.
  • The “peak of the peak” workload drives infrastructure purchase decisions.

Airports have to buy enough infrastructure to support worst-case events. A solution that enables the airport to allocate resources dynamically, so that only the “peak of the peak” workload drives infrastructure purchases, will reduce the cost of their infrastructure.

Independent software vendors (ISVs) are interested in a common operating environment that will reduce their deployment costs. They are also interested in selling their solutions on a “pay by the drink,” or software as a service (SaaS), offering.

Cloud infrastructure can enable a solution to these problems and opportunities. A cloud solution such as IBM’s PureSystems platform can provide multiple hypervisor and operating system environments to which established airport applications can be migrated. PureSystems integrated expertise means that an airport’s IT shop could reassign infrastructure staff to a new services development role to satisfy new airport requirements, greatly improving IT’s time to value. Cloud computing can reassign CPU, memory storage and networking to today’s most demanding application, thereby reducing the infrastructure cost to the “peak of the peak” rather than each individual application peak workload.

Cloud computing also provides independent software vendors (ISVs) with a standard environment upon which they can deploy their offerings­­—a “gold image” that will run on an on-premises private cloud or a public cloud. An airport would then have the option to purchase a private network solution (or service) to run on their premises, or buy the solution on a per-seat basis, accessible by secure Internet protocols. Both solutions reduce the cost of solution maintenance.

A cloud solution would also enable several small airports, otherwise unable to afford new capabilities, to share a solution. Metropolitan areas with several public and military airports would also have the opportunity to share infrastructure and solutions.

Bill McCrosky is a Solution Architect and Consultant on the STG Industry CTO team, responsible for the Travel and Transportation (T&T) industry. He has 35 years of experience in the IT industry. Since joining IBM in 1998, he has been a project manager and solution architect on numerous business analytics and optimization projects. You can reach him on Twitter @BillMcCrosky

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One Response to Do Smarter Airports Belong on the Cloud?

  1. Ravi Ss says:


    True enough, breaking the airport silo is the first step in making airports smarter. Bangalore International airport was one recent example where they reorganised themselves by implementing SoA based Smart Airport Enabler. Clouds is the way to go, more so for airports picthing for Smarter Commerce and for multiple airport owners/operators.

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