Air transport industry launches first ‘community’ cloud

SITA, the air transport IT specialist, has announced plans to launch a community cloud designed specifically for the air transport industry, in an effort to cut costs and improve efficiencies.

The organisation, which is owned by the air transport industry, believes that the sector needs its own private cloud because of the unique way in which it operates.

For instance, the all the stakeholders in the industry, such as airlines, airports and manufacturers, share many business applications, and the air transport industry operates on a complex set of national, regional and global standards and regulations. The cloud will be tailored to deliver IT services to support this complexity.

“The best way to really serve the industry’s needs is to build an integrated cloud combining network and IT solely dedicated, and specifically tailored, to the air transport industry,” said Francesco Violante, SITA’s CEO.

The Air Transport Industry (ATI) Cloud will be built on SITA’s existing network, which connects 17,000 sites across the world. Ninety percent of the world’s airlines are also connected to the network, while SITA has a direct presence at 320 airports.

Depending on the level of demand for cloud computing services, the ATI Cloud will be based on six, large, regional virtual data centres located across five continents, with additional virtual data centres based at large airports.

“The data centres will allow us to be close to our customers,” said Gregory Ouillon, SITA’s VP of the ATI Cloud Programme. SITA wants the cloud to deliver high quality end user  experience, by ensuring that end users see a response time of no more than 100 milliseconds.

SITA plans to deliver desktop virtualisation, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) over the cloud. But as well as providing its own IT services on the platform, the organisation is encouraging customers and independent vendors to distribute their own services over the ATI Cloud - hence referring it to ‘community cloud’.

“By using the SITA backbone [the network] this is a platform that can be used by other providers. At the same time, we are going to evolve our own portfolio [of IT services] to move to the develop efficiency in delivering SITA applications,” said Violante.

The cloud could help SITA and the air transport industry to cut costs, for example, by removing servers and consolidating those in regional data centres.

The air transport IT specialist estimates that the industry has the potential to save between $40 million and $50 million a month if all the players in the industry moved their server infrastructure to the cloud, for example.

Ouillon added: “By deploying new applications on virtual servers and by providing access to desktops in the cloud to its ground operations staff and partners, an airline will be able to adapt its IT to route expansion, disruption or traffic spikes at lower cost.

“Such deployments would normally take months but with the ATI Cloud, all operators at the various locations globally will have their applications instantly.”

SITA will introduce Desktop-as-a-Service by June this year, followed by IaaS. Towards the end of 2011, a SaaS catalogue offering generic applications as well as industry-specific ones will be available. This will include SITA software, such as its baggage management application, and Common Use Terminal Equipment (CUTE) application.

So far, SITA has invested $50 million in its data centres, and over the next few years will invest up to another $50 million in the cloud programme.

It is currently running a few cloud pilot projects with around a dozen early adopters, including airlines and airports. The projects range from desktop virtualisation to SaaS, within the areas of flight operations and aircraft maintenance. One firm is also using the cloud to distribute training materials to staff in remote locations.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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