Coffee, Tea And The HP 3000

In October of last year, HP acquired as a wholly-owned subsidiary, theprivately-held Open Skies, Inc. (Salt Lake City, Utah), developers of the OpenRes airlinereservation system and a host of revenue management and integrated e-ticket/e-commercesolutions for small- and medium-sized airlines.

The technical foundation for the company's fleet of products has always been the HP3000 running Turbo Image/SQL databases. Open Skies is not immune to technology changestaking place in the travel industry, however, and interfacing those HP 3000 stalwarts withWindows NT and UNIX clients and servers and Internet-based transaction processing is animportant focus for the firm.

Taking Flight

One popular application for Open Skies is its takeFlight Online Internet booking enginethat allows customers to reserve flights and purchase tickets from a Web browser. Airlinesare being drawn to it because it doesn't require a reservation agent. "That savesthem a ton of money," says Roy Breslawski, Open Skies' marketing and sales manager.

The HP 3000 acts as an OLTP server that communicates to the client workstation usingsockets protocol and a combination of proprietary applications, explains Jim Sartain, OpenSkies' R&D manager. Those local applications are comprised of Java scripts used fornetwork validation at the client site and Perl CGI scripts. In that environment, the HP3000 "waits for a proprietary message to come from the client," says Sartain.

Sartain adds that the applications are customized for each airline for a smooth"blend with the customer's other Web applications." He adds that those clientsprefer a combination of either Windows NT and Microsoft IIS or UNIX and Apache as theirWeb servers and that Open Skies has found no difficulties working in either environment.

Open Skies' Revenue Management System (RMS) acts as a fare control center for theOpenRes reservation system. Using RMS, fares can be created, modified and discontinued ona real-time basis. In addition, customers with access to the Airline Tariff PublishingCompany can use RMS for competitive fare analysis on a market by market basis.

Breslawski explains that RMS performs a user-definable batch transfer of OpenResdatabase historical information from the HP 3000 host to a Windows NT database server.Massaging reservation data on the NT server (Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 is recommended) isdone running RMS on a Windows 95/98 client with Internet access and e-mail capabilities.This operation separates the CPU-intensive, decision support, number crunching processfrom the OLTP function of the HP 3000. Updated data is then batch transferred back to thehost and re-merged with the OpenRes database. Other client software required for a RMSinstallation includes Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01, WRQ Reflection for HP with NS/VT5.2, Nico Mak Computing, Inc.'s WinZip 6.3 and Symantec pcAnywhere32 8.0.

Passenger Pergola

Travelers with no baggage can use a "Self-service Check-in Kiosk" to securetheir seat assignment. One of a series of GUIs developed by Open Skies (using C++) aimedat helping each airline improve their efficiency and cost effectiveness, the kioskcommunicates to the HP 3000 servers via a Dynamic Link Library (DLL) using TCP/IP. Eachkiosk contains a Windows 95/98/NT PC with a touchscreen color monitor that displays agraphical image of the plane and an updated seat availability chart. Passengers can choosea seat assignment by touching the desired seat on the display then print out a paperboarding pass. The OpenRes database is then updated accordingly in real-time.

Breslawski says although the kiosk's lack of a need for ticketing personnel makes itpopular with the airlines, overall acceptance has been slow in coming. He compares thetechnology to being "in a state where ATM technology was a decade ago. [Passengers]are not quite used to it yet."

Flight Speed is OpenRes' front-end GUI booking software. It's written in C++ forMicrosoft Windows 95/98/NT and communicates with the OpenRes database using TCP/IP. Itlets agents perform availability searches by flight type, fare class, maximum fare or bythe day of week.

They can sort flights by time or type, view flight rules and total price in multiplecurrencies and view tax breakdowns for each flight or passenger. Finally, Flight Speedmakes the reservation.

Stable And Capable

When HP acquired Open Skies, one of the reasons was to launch HP's Commercial SystemsDivision (CSY) into the transaction-based business-process services industry. Reliability,scalability and interoperability are the capabilities of the HP 3000 that, HP says, madethe push feasible. And, it's those often-heard buzzwords that, Breslawski says, keep theHP 3000 server firmly in control of the Open Skies product line.

System reliability is accomplished by mirroring servers across EMC disk drives. QuestSoftware's SharePlex/iX-NetBase is used to duplicate the database and keep it in synch tothe second server. "Mirroring and the EMC drives are most important to us," saysBreslawski, speaking of insuring availability and speed to the airlines flying the OpenSkies. "A three second response time for an inquiry is very slow to them."

As to scalability, Sartain says to look for Open Skies to offer more fully hostedsolutions in the near future. Clients will be able to turn over their complete reservationsoftware repertoire to Open Skies technicians. "This way, we can take fullresponsibility for the system, including backup and security," he says. He adds thatthere is also an economy of scale to be gained by increased hosting. "We can get morethan one airline per 3000," he says. "With small airlines, we may host up toeight on one [server]."

Sartain adds that he servers, installed at the sites of clients who prefer to hosttheir own applications, range from the HP 3000 Model 918 up to the 979KS/200.

"We're also putting more emphasis into integrating with global distributionsystems like Saabre and Apollo," says Breslawski. This will give individual travelagents, not just each airline, the ability to run inquiries, look at an airline's seatinventory and book tickets.

In the few months since HP acquired Open Skies, it has added Win Air (Salt Lake City,Utah) and Athabaska Airlines (Prince Albert, Sas., Can.) to its fleet of clients and is inthe process of installing the system at Avior Express in Venezuela. And through it all,the HP 3000 stays in the pilot's seat.