Driving virtualization

BRUSSELS — The Air Transport IT Summit held here in Belgium last month provided an opportunity for the industry’s tech specialists to address an increasingly digitized world, and to discuss what that means for the future of passenger air travel. Key takeaways from this year’s summit include cost savings, collaborative decisionmaking, virtualized IT environments, and stakeholder integration. In our August issue, AIRPORT BUSINESS will report in-depth on the summit’s industry sessions, and on the ‘digital airport’ of the future.

SITA, specialists in air transport communications and IT solutions, says server virtualization will be the mainstay of data center design within five years. Virtualization works by splitting a physical server into separate partitions, creating virtual servers with the capability of running applications in isolation from other partitions. The result is that multiple applications can be run seamlessly on a single piece of physical hardware, enabling higher utilization rates with fewer physical servers.

In effect, virtualization better matches computing capacity with load, says SITA, allowing a much more efficient use of IT investments.

The Air Transport IT Summit, managed and hosted by SITA, proved to be an effective forum for the industry’s IT leaders to identify the best use of IT investment across the airport setting.

In a presentation given by SITA’s senior product manager Benoit Verbaere, airports are identified as ‘keen to provide standard services to tenants.’ Virtualization, says Verbaere, enables infrastructure multitenancy, and touches all layers of information and communication technology (ICT).

According to Verbaere, a robust multi-tenant community IT plaform needs include:
• On demand, elastic CPU, memory, storage, and connectivity; and
• Secure, pre-connected (LAN, IP VPN, Internet).

A multi-purpose infrastructure will support:
• Airline applications required to run locally at an airport, e.g. aircraft servers; process and business specific applications; and content;
• Utility services like DNS, DHCP, file, security, email;
• Application integration, aggregating various data feeds, combined with business intelligence;
• Hosting of virtual desktop;

The “as a service” community model provides:
• Footprint reduction and cost avoidance for IT resources;
• Ease of entry and ease of scaling up/down; and
• Management, automation, and chargeback.

The air transport industry is innovating and building digital airports, relates Verbaere. However, best practices are needed to expedite availability, or to do more within a capped IT budget, and to facilitate local cross-boundary collaboration.

SITA innovation focus groups will provide a forum for the development of new air transport industry solutions that focus on business operations and business process transformation requirements, he says. Focus group priorities include the design of a joint airline/airport approach, pilot programs, and proofs of concept.

Airline IT trends

The 2010 Airline IT Trends Survey, co-sponsored by Airline Business Magazine and SITA and published during the IT summit event, received a record 129 airline respondents this year.

Highlights include:
• Overall operating IT and IT spending will remain at about 1.8 percent of total airline revenues for 2010, but 90 percent expect IT budgets to remain the same or increase next year;
• Airlines expect tickets sold through their own direct channels to grow from 25 percent to 37.9 percent by 2013;
• Airline ability to sell tickets through mobile phones is expected to grow from 18 percent today to 70 percent by 2013.

According to the survey, mobile phone services will play an important role in the evolution of self-service technologies, evolving from a passenger communication-focused channel to a more interaction/transaction driven interface to the passenger.

Airlines expect more than 12 percent of passengers using mobile phones to check-in by 2013, up from only 2 percent today.