OpenJaw and AWS help ANA prepare for take off
This post is authored by Brian Lewis, CTO of OpenJaw Technologies.
OpenJaw was founded in 2002, after which we followed what could be considered a traditional trajectory for any early 2000s travel tech solution provider. It developed software and secured customers who then ran those solutions in data centres managed by themselves or their hosting partners.
As OpenJaw and its customers evolved, they both started to converge towards a SaaS model. This was something based initially on OpenJaw deploying and self-managing its solutions within rack space or compute power purchased from hosting providers.
However, the need for a strategic approach that could help us move to a sustainable and cost-effective framework for delivering and managing our SaaS solutions rapidly became apparent.
We may have been a little late to the party but from 2016, OpenJaw has been committed to the AWS cloud.
All Nippon Airlines ready for NDC take off
Do you remember March 2019? If history is a foreign country, then 2019 is an alien planet when viewed through the lens of 2020.
March 2019 was the date when OpenJaw signed All Nippon Airways (ANA) with a faithful promise to launch a brand-new platform exactly one year later in March 2020. Little did we know what that would entail at the time.
ANA is Japan’s largest and only 5-star airline for seven consecutive years, and they selected OpenJaw Technologies to provide its New Distribution Capability (NDC).
This is ANA, so the solution had to be scalable, secure, highly available, high-performing, and cost-effective. The sheer size, scale, and global nature of the programme of work with ANA meant that OpenJaw needed a comprehensive cloud solution.
Architecting the solution
Architecting a robust solution for the OpenJaw NDC project required a web of systems, services, and people all linked across the globe. In addition to this, OpenJaw had set a goal of having both a great customer experience, as well as allowing individual airline users to access the systems and information they needed to do their job, regardless of their location, department, technical knowledge.
ANA has internal systems within their own data centre, which need to “talk” seamlessly to components running in Tokyo, Frankfurt, and Ireland. OpenJaw used AWS services such as VPC Peering and AWS Transit Gateway to deliver transparent connectivity across these various systems. To ensure prompt, effective communication and an optimised development and delivery process, OpenJaw deliberately used distributed teams based in Ireland, Spain, Poland, Hong Kong, and Tokyo to deliver the project.
OpenJaw built this architecture taking full advantage of AWS Solutions Architects both in Europe and Japan to validate architectural decisions and make specific suggestions on the best ways to achieve our goals. They were particularly helpful regarding the use of AWS for development, testing, and deployment.
Like everyone else, OpenJaw had no idea how extreme the changes to come would be, and how crucial having a distributed cloud-based approach to development and delivery would become.
The pandemic caused unprecedented disruption to the airline industry. OpenJaw had a small amount of “insider knowledge,” and we saw what was happening in China and Hong Kong faster than some, largely because we have 17 China-based airline customers. The world of travel simply shut down in a few short weeks, first in China and then the Western world. OpenJaw had promised its largest customer, ANA, that there would be a go-live of the NDC programme in March 2020, right in the middle of a global pandemic.
Historically, OpenJaw has always had a strong onsite presence during customer go-lives. Members of the delivery team and senior management would be present at the customer’s offices during the cutover and would remain so until everything was up and running.
March 2020 and the pandemic meant that no one from OpenJaw would be flying to Tokyo for the cutover. The question on everybody’s mind was whether it could be achieved remotely, with everyone in ANA and OpenJaw working entirely from home. No one had ever done a go-live remotely before – or had any experience to draw from. Nevertheless, there were factors that meant we had some level of confidence that the go-live could be delivered remotely. Having a great customer, well-formed teams, and using the AWS distributed development process, OpenJaw was able to successfully deliver the ANA NDC solution during a lockdown.
One interesting use case during the remote cutover was the heightened requirement for operational insights and analytics. No longer could face-to-face meetings or emails suffice. Both OpenJaw and ANA required logs and metrics from application tiers to gain insights from operational data. Using AWS Elasticsearch Service during the go-live meant that both OpenJaw and ANA were confident that both parties could rely on data regarding:
- Performance of the NDC API (for example, throughput, response time)
- Performance of third-party suppliers such as Skyscanner
- Access to an error dashboard that was reliable
Collaboration among disruption
There were immediate advantages to the architecture and approach that were not anticipated when OpenJaw worked with AWS on the original architecture, pre-pandemic. In cooperation with AWS, OpenJaw had already been able to deliver stateless architecture, Auto Scaling groups, and container technologies, enabling its AWS based solutions to dynamically respond to traffic volumes. Given what ultimately happened to airline flight demand during the pandemic, both OpenJaw and ANA had a solution optimised for the world of pandemic flight demand that is also able to respond dynamically as demand returns and traffic levels increase.
All OpenJaw’s international customers were being hosted in various AWS Regions worldwide, which enabled OpenJaw teams to manage these customers and their environments from home.
OpenJaw gained considerable confidence working with AWS and were confident that a go-live for the ANA project had a strong possibility of success. The ANA team, the OpenJaw team, and the robustness of the AWS solution meant that both parties collectively delivered something that was truly once-in-a-lifetime: a solution designed pre-pandemic that coped with the pandemic and the “new normal” with flying colours.
I would like to say a public “thank you” to the teams in OpenJaw, ANA, and AWS, who were all working from home during what we all know were very disruptive times. It was a fantastic achievement under the most unusual of circumstances.
So, what happens next? For the most part, it is about integrating more distribution partners and releasing more inventory.
Like the rest of the travel industry, it is about being ready for the pent up demand the world is currently experiencing for travel, not just looking at the horizon but seeing what lies beyond.
Brian Lewis Biography
Brian is travel tech veteran with over 20 years’ experience in travel whose career began developing video games, something that gave him a focus on both technology and customer delivery. One thing that the video game industry teaches you is a respect for deadlines, nobody moves Christmas.
Moving into the travel sector, development and architectural skills were augmented with leadership opportunities. Working for both smaller companies and industry giants, delivering complex travel tech solutions from initial engagement to go-live for significant customers including tier 1 airlines.
Brian is currently defining and implementing OpenJaw’s ongoing technology strategy as it continues to scale and grow.