The Java Effect

A leading provider of business
solutions for the travel and transportation industry, SABRE Technology Solutions employs
more than 10,000 people worldwide, with 3,000 dedicated to software development and
administration. SABRE carries an impressive client list including British Airways, Hyatt
Hotels, Lufthansa Airlines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Qantas Airways and American
Airlines, SABRE’s largest customer.

Deployed at more than 100,000 users
in 40 international companies, QIK Access is SABRE’s flagship reservation product. Since
QIK Access is part of the very fabric of the travel business, improvements to the system
can dramatically help SABRE capitalize on its leadership market position. After taking a
closer look at its development processes and deployment environments, SABRE envisioned an
effective transition path to a system that will help increase its presence while reducing
costs. At the heart of the plan is Sun Microsystems’ Java computing platform and the
JavaStation network computer. By employing these innovative technologies incrementally,
SABRE will be able to streamline development and delivery of systems, lower internal costs
and offer lower-priced systems to its customers. The goal is to bring QIK Access to even
more desktops around the world.

The challenge
The SABRE team recognized that the Java development platform provided an opportunity to
leverage the best aspects of QIK Access while shedding the extra programming weight of
supporting several different platforms. "We see Java as the first programming
environment that gives you true portability-far beyond C++ or any of the languages
currently available. We have also learned that the core Java APIs provide all the
necessary functionality to write a GUI application," states Scott Frederick, Chief
Architect of the QIK Access product line for SABRE.

Since the QIK Access system was
built as a three-tiered architecture that separates the graphical user interface (GUI),
application logic and database functions, it was relatively simple to peel off just the
GUI component and rewrite it in Java. By developing a single Java code base, QIK Access is
much easier to program and maintain at many remote field locations of SABRE’s customers.
Explains Frederick, "With Java we will be able to maintain one set of code and run it
in all of our customer environments. That is important because it greatly reduces our
development and maintenance costs."

Because of the dynamic nature of
the travel industry, the ability to change quickly is an essential ingredient in the
formula for survival and success. In addition, competitive products are constantly
arriving. For these reasons, QIK Access needed to be more adaptable to rapid change and
redeployment. The company saw the advantage of using Java to deploy new applications
quickly and from a central location.

Speeding service
To test its ideas, SABRE moved quickly to create a QIK Access prototype including a
fully-functioning reservations application that mirrors the original C++ version. The
prototype application helps users check seat availability, book flights, make ticket
reservations and find information about airports and flight details. For the prototype,
the entire GUI was ported over to Java.

Sun supplied two experienced Java
programmers to do the initial design work and kickstart the development process. The
result: usable beta-quality code in only a few days. With help from Sun in getting over
the initial learning curve of writing in Java, SABRE was then able to test and complete
the prototype in approximately six weeks.

In the airline reservations
environment, a typical inquiry or reservation phone call takes about three minutes. One of
the keys to the effectiveness of QIK Access is its ability to streamline this process. A
friendly, refined user interface enables QIK Access users to focus on handling
reservations and their dialog with the customer, instead of the system itself. SABRE
Technology Solutions estimates that reducing the average call by just one second results
in an annual savings of about $1 million dollars per year.

The possibility of cost savings
made performance a key issue when SABRE was prototyping the JavaStation version of QIK
Access. "We had to show that we could provide this functionality at a speed that was
production ready. It was very important that the system perform at least as well as the
fat-client (PC) version. The prototype indicates that we will be able to achieve
comparable performance," says Frederick.

Lowering deployment cost
One of the key advantages to a Java computing architecture is that it alleviates an array
of support and maintenance hassles. Since new versions of application software no longer
have to be loaded on individual PCs, centralized deployment of the latest applications is
accomplished automatically by downloading the current version from the Java application
server.

What next
By running the new, Java version of the QIK Access application on JavaStations, SABRE
delivers a complete and reliable solution with improved flexibility at a lower cost than
when they used PCs. A total of 70 developers is dedicated to the SABRE product line. The
20 C++ experts are quickly being retrained to the Java platform. "For an experienced
C++ developer, we found that Java is fairly easy to pick up and run with, once you get
over the initial learning curve-which we found to be quite short," says Frederick.

"By introducing Java, we are
looking to replace PCs and introduce a much less expensive network computer like the
JavaStation," explains Frederick. "Moving to a JavaStation makes sense for those
customers who need to change their current hardware because it is outdated or they need
new equipment. Now that the prototype has been developed, we are looking at incrementally
rewriting parts of our system in Java. We expect the first roll out in a 12 month time
frame, and we hope that over the next two to three years, we’ll be able to double our
market by introducing Java and increasing the portion of our customer base that was
previously unable to invest in PCs."

Courtesy: Sun
Microsystems (India)

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