Almost every modern ski lift in Europe uses hardware and software from SKIDATA. With 10,000 installations in more than 100 countries, this Austrian company guarantees a safe and fast access of people and vehicles to ski areas, stadiums, trade fairs, airports or amusement parks. SKIDATA is the world’s largest provider of mass-access and parking-management solutions and a premium manufacturer of traffic barriers, ticket machines and cashier systems.

Its access systems are customized for each individual client and deliver all necessary components from one source. From the management of visitor flows to monitoring, maintenance, administration and cost control, SKIDATA can handle the management and implementation of the necessary processes. Its customers include Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, Nürburgring in Germany and around 90% of European ski areas.

Providers of mass-access solutions like SKIDATA typically connect hardware and software elements within a network — examples of this are cash registers, parking meters, entry barriers and vending machines. But requirements are changing: “For many customers, a classic parking-space management system is not sufficient anymore. Therefore, for the last ten years, we’ve been offering a range of add-on services, and the demand for them is rising all the time,” says Peter Burgstaller, head of the Central Hosting department at SKIDATA. These add-on services include handling reservations and payments through the Internet, as well as external services. For example, automatic license-plate recognition and detection systems or validation options for parking vouchers need to be integrated into the total solution.

All add-on services need to be managed centrally and be handled by SKIDATA’s own data centers. “We started doing this in Austria, but in the meantime, we’ve expanded to other regions, including outside Europe,” explains Burgstaller. Because of new locations, for example in the USA or Australia, a need for capacity arose, which the data center in Austria could no longer handle by itself. And then there was an additional requirement: The response times of the systems have to be extremely short, so that they can interact with the clients in the right way. For example, if an automatic pay station takes processes a voucher from an external partner, the latency should not exceed 100 milliseconds. But the data center in Austria can not guarantee that for all locations. For Peter Burgstaller it was therefore clear that “in order to be able to offer these services worldwide, we need data centers that are geographically closer to the customer.”

SKIDATA is expanding and entering new markets. This has placed additional demands on its infrastructure. Creating another proprietary data center was not an option for SKIDATA due to the associated cost and effort. SKIDATA discussed its requirements with various providers but quickly concluded: “In Amazon Web Services we have found a partner that can fulfill our needs completely.”

Aside from the attractive price, the most decisive factors were the quality and range of different services on offer. “For the features from AWS, quality and selection are way above average compared to what its competitors are offering,” he says. In particular, the Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), which SKIDATA uses with PostgreSQL and Oracle, plays a key role. For this, AWS offers a hosted full service, making it unnecessary to obtain licenses and install servers. “Our entire solution is based on the RDS Oracle Service,” says Burgstaller.

Another vital argument to select AWS was the issue of data security and compliance. SKIDATA has decided on a highly comprehensive security concept: Within each region, say Australia, data is stored at least redundantly and at different geographic locations. “We need the services in double or multiple execution, and they need to be distributed over various locations. Amazon is the only company that can offer the necessary features to achieve that,” explains Burgstaller.

For an event-based company like SKIDATA, the scalability of AWS’s solutions was also important. Regardless of whether it concerns a stadium, trade exhibition or parking garage — for almost all mass-access systems, the fluctuations in load capacity can be extreme. The entry barriers to a stadium immediately before or after a sports event handle very different amounts of data than during a sports competition; and a parking system needs larger capacity on a Saturday afternoon than on a Monday morning.

The virtual entities of the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) ensure that only the computing power that is needed for each situation is actually used. Elastic Load Balancing optimizes this process by distributing the incoming requirements to the EC2 entities according to the load. Finally, Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) ensures that storage capacity is also adjusted flexibly according to demand. “We measure the latency times to the customers and the response times of the applications. Based on that, the systems are ramped up or decelerated,” explains Burgstaller. The additional agility and responsiveness that are gained from this procedure are a huge advantage for the new locations in the US and Australia: The demand for capacity fluctuates often and is hard to calculate. “We are still in the ramp-up phase,” says Burgstaller. Using Amazon Web Services ensures that the data and storage capacity can grow flexibly based on what the market needs.

Since SKIDATA’s product portfolio also comprises hardware solutions, parts of the system, like entry barriers or payment machines, inevitably sit with the customer. To guarantee that each location has the right kind of infrastructure with low latencies, the data center had to get closer to the customer. That’s why SKIDATA relies on the Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC), which allows the development of a logically isolated area of the cloud. “We needed an infrastructure provider that could offer us virtual entities that are redundant around the globe, and which we could then manage centrally from Austria,” explains Burgstaller. Amazon cloud services were the only ones to fulfill these requirements. In fact, using them is the condition for SKIDATA to offer its own add-on services in certain markets in the first place.

Peter Burgstaller is positive about the way his company is using AWS. “The number of our add-on services has increased from one to 11 since we started offering them in January 2011,” he says. The infrastructure from AWS helps to keep up with this development. The number of EC2 entities that have been used during this same timeframe has risen increased from one to around 60. This enormous growth can be explained by the processes that are necessary to put a service into operation. The solutions are installed and passed on to the technical support department in the respective subsidiary (for example in the USA), which then takes care of the configuration and customer service. Using Amazon Web Services has led to significant efficiency enhancements. “Normally, the preparations for this process take months,” says Burgstaller. “With AWS, we can now do the purchasing, installation and the startup within a week.”

As a result, SKIDATA not only reacts faster to each customer’s needs, but can also provide more customized solutions. AWS is growing its portfolio of services daily and the modular system enables a large degree of flexibility. AWS helps in selecting and assembling a smart service package just as it does in administrating SKIDATA’s existing systems. The company can therefore always respond to what a customer needs in any situation, and at any time. “Which AWS applications we use changes constantly, depending on the requirements,” notes Burgstaller. At the same time, AWS provides a good overview of everything through the central command interface, which is easy to use – an additional benefit, says Burgstall. At SKIDATA’s locations in the USA and Australia, AWS has already become a standard solution. And the company is currently discussing how to expand the cloud services to possible future location, for example in Japan or Africa.

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