This blog is written with my SITA Chair ‘hat’ on… As some of you may know, SITA is the “Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautique”, founded 62 years ago to provide telecommunications to airlines.
Earlier this month, SITA announced its programme to build the Air Transport Community Cloud, dedicated to the aviation industry.
Now, ‘the Cloud’ is a much over-hyped concept – especially by IT suppliers. Seemingly not a day goes past without some cumulo-nimbus decorated piece of supplier propaganda dropping into my inbox! But last June I went on record at the 2010 Airline Business IT Summit as saying the Cloud is one of my “Big 4 C” trends for the next decade for Airline IT. Had I succumbed to the supplier hype?
Well, I hope not. I still believe Cloud Computing is one of the major trends of the current decade, not least because it enables the CIO to become the best friend of the CFO and their CEO, by accessing economies of scale at the same time as increasing business flexibility.
This is because – if well executed – the Cloud allows normal companies in normal industries to access flexible computing processing and storage capabilities comparable to – and sometimes provided by – companies of the scale of Google, IBM, Orange, eBay or Microsoft.
What is this magical Cloud then? Well, as with all hype there as many definitions as suppliers. To me, the Cloud is the provision of a shared computing service remotely from the user, which is charged on a business usage basis. The cost of the hardware and operating systems, the cost of licences and so forth, is aggregated and borne by the supplier. This enables you as a IT provider to acquire your basic computer processing at costs lower than you could on your own and to use them when you want them.
It can be used to switch on and switch off test systems. It can be used to provide for peak loading. It can be used to provide fundamental services.
This development is very much helped by the arrival of the Internet and web connectivity. Thus Software as a Service is provided in the Cloud.
Indeed, the air transport industry (ATI) is no stranger to such Clouds. In my definition of a Cloud, the airlines’ invention – the Global Distribution Systems (GDSs) – is one, and thus Amadeus, Sabre, Galileo and Worldspan are Cloud Computing providers – they just did it with older technologies.
Some background about how SITA got here may – I hope – be interesting, plus some explanation of why we believe this is going to be a winner for the SITA’s Community Concept.
This hit me in a flash almost two years ago (check out last year’s ATI Summit video, where I talk about this) and I have been encouraging SITA to develop the Air Transport Cloud programme since then. This is because the Cloud is a service that is particularly well suited to SITA with our unique Community services, the telecommunications infrastructure for which is provided on a not-for-profit basis for the whole Air Transport Industry.
SITA’s investment in shared Cloud Computing infrastructure is now well underway and the ATI Cloud applications and the SITA Cloud services will be going live from June. They will include infrastructure, platform, desktop and software-as-a-service offerings. Even better, the Infrastructure Cloud Services will be provided by SITA as a Community Service on a not-for-profit basis to all SITA Members!
As I recall, the Cloud came up at a SITA joint Board/Executive Strategy Day way back in 2009. As I said, it is not a new idea for air transport. We already access economies of scale in terms of reservations and check-in, where airlines pay per passenger boarded for a centrally hosted service by the GDSs and SITA.
However, the idea of extending this to a wider range of services, facilitated by the new technologies in datacentres, networks and software-as-a-service, is absolutely made for SITA; since SITA uniquely has global network connections to almost every major airline and every major airport in the World.
Francesco Violante (SITA’s CEO) and SITA’s Vision has been that the air transport industry’s very special needs are brilliantly suited to an Industry Cloud. Each flight that takes off is of course a miracle of process and systems integration: involving many different entities including airlines, airports, manufacturers and GDSs that share numerous business applications and for that take-off to occur safely and efficiently, they must co-operate across the complex air transport eco-system. The aviation industry operates within complex national, regional and global regulations and standards.
SITA has therefore built an integrated cloud combining network and IT infrastructure solely dedicated to and – best of all – specifically tailored to the air transport industry and our integration complexities.
Our SITA Air Transport Community Cloud is based on six large regional virtual data centres across five continents; together with virtual data centres based at large airports. Services will be delivered through regional portals, providing airline CIOs with on-demand computing. Every end-users will be no more than 100 milliseconds away from one of the SITA data centres.
And the SITA Air Transport Cloud will not just be limited to SITA apps: as well as providing the basic applications to run an airline or an airport, we are going to provide the platform for independent software vendors and application service providers to distribute their applications to aviation customers.
So I really believe the ATI Cloud is a game changer for the air transport industry. Airline and airports around the world can have their applications instantly and flexibly.
Watch for developments. I think the Cloud will revolutionise ATI technology, both in service and in time in cost. We have seen this happen already in passenger service systems (PSS), and the Cloud makes this open to all air transport services.