European bargain airline easyJet used Windows Azure when it wanted to make a radical change to its business model: letting customers actually reserve seats. It's an impressive demonstration of how to merge public and private cloud technologies, and also a reminder that upgrades are a lot easier to justify when they add a new revenue stream.
Picture: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
easyJet enterprise architect Bert Craven outlined the airline's use of Azure during the keynote presentation on Day 1 at TechEd North America. Last year, easyJet (think Jetstar but without such an obvious corporate parent) decided to make a radical shift from the way it had operated for the previous 17 years: not letting customers reserve specific seats. "We sold tickets and passengers would turn tickets into a seat by running as fast as they could. It's a full contact sport and it's not very popular."
easyJet decided to add seat reservations (Jetstar made a similar move when it launched international services in 2006), but that required radical changes to its existing IT systems. Rather than rebuilding from scratch, easyJet kept its main reservations system in its own hosting systems but utilised Azure for the seat choices segment. "We blend the reservation and seating in the browser page loading," Craven explained. AJAX requests are used to pull in the data dynamically, ensuring the system knows current seat availabilities and restrictions (such as no children in exit rows). "Any interaction in the top panel [after picking a flight] is with Azure."
As well as minimising the amount of work needed in the existing reservations system, Azure also allows the company to dial up extra capacity. "In the second week of January, we put most summer inventory on sale, and end up with 20000 concurrent users filling 10 planes a minute for a week."
What Craven didn't explicitly state, but was very evident in his on-screen demo, was that this was a revenue-raising exercise from day one. Basic seat selection costs at least 3 pounds (letting the system allocate for free presumably gives you a horrendous centre seat near the back), and better seats attract a premium. With those revenue guarantees, budgets for the project would have been much easier to come by.