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Open Ticket for Continental

Continental Airlines pushed the envelope when it moved its automated ticket-reissue application to an open-source software stack that included a 64-bit MySQL database server.

By Carol Sliwa
April 4, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Continental Airlines Inc. encountered a bit of turbulence last year when it decided to shift the ticket-reissue application it had built for Unix-based servers to a full open-source software stack with a 64-bit database server.

There were no 64-bit editions of some of the key drivers and software products that the Houston-based airline needed for the application. So developers had to trek to Hewlett-Packard Co.'s service center to test and certify the drivers to run in 32-bit native mode on the 64-bit HP Linux systems.

Continental had to launch the application in September with the MySQL database servers in 32-bit mode and wait about five months for the 64-bit edition of HP's Serviceguard for Linux, which would provide the high availability it wanted. Within the next three weeks, the company expects to move its clustered 64-bit database servers from the lab to production, says Michael McDonald, director of technology.

Even before that happens, the application has been paying dividends on the open-source stack. A ticket-reissuing process that once took highly experienced agents an average of 20 minutes to complete can now be performed by customers visiting Continental's Web site. Later this year, customers will be able to access the application through self-service airport kiosks.

Moving from an ad hoc manual process to the Unix-based application running on 450-MHz HP NonStop servers initially cut the average transaction time to 15 seconds. Switching last September to faster Opteron-based HP servers for the database and Xeon-based boxes for the application and Web servers, all running on Linux, sliced the time to two seconds, according to McDonald.

Although the airline's approach may not be entirely unique, it's hardly commonplace among well-established corporations. In an IDC poll of Linux users released last July, just 27% of the respondents said they run databases on Linux. And with Continental, it's not only a database but also will be a 64-bit MySQL database running on Linux.

"They're leading-edge. You're not even talking about hundreds of companies that are using 64-bit MySQL," says Gartner Inc. analyst Donald Feinberg.

In comparison, the Apache Web server and JBoss application server that Continental selected are far more popular choices. Meta Group Inc. analyst Thomas Murphy says many of his clients are deciding they don't need or want all of the J2EE technology and are opting for open-source stacks that are faster to develop on and to deploy.

But the use of a full open-source stack tends to be less prevalent in corporate IT development shops, according to Daryl Plummer, a Gartner analyst. "There are a lot more successes for people who have adopted parts of the open-source stack," he says. "It's usually more for fringe or Web applications, but it's moving more and more toward the critical ones every day."

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