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Open source helps Schiphol fly to multi-clouds

Amsterdam airport Schiphol is utilising open source software to create and use a multi-cloud platform with an open API

Schiphol airport, just south of Amsterdam, is on a journey underpinned by open source software, with Red Hat helping the Dutch airport along.

Each year, Schiphol handles almost 64 million passengers, 48 million pieces of luggage and 1.7 million tonnes of freight – and these numbers are rising.

Schiphol is Europe’s third largest airport in terms of passenger numbers and cargo volume, and the 100-year-old airport is not taking it easy in its old age. Far from it, Schiphol is embracing digital transformation and employing innovative IT methodologies such as continuous development, hackathons and DevOps.

The ambitions of other European airports make it essential for Schiphol to evolve, with mainland destinations such as Frankfurt, and nearer places such as Antwerp and Brussels, seen as competitors. It also seems there are national competitors in the making, such as the smaller airports of Eindhoven, Rotterdam and Lelystad.

To address these challenges, Schiphol is aiming for better service and greater efficiency through digital transformation.

The necessary IT work has been in progress since before the spring 2015, and is ongoing. Schiphol is using open source software to create and use a multi-cloud platform on which containers are being run and open application programming interfaces (APIs) are managed.

API for flight info

A prime example of Schiphol’s use of APIs is its Flight API, which unlocks all the publicly available information about airlines, the types of planes, arrivals, delays, diversions, baggage unloading, boarding, departures and destinations at the airport.

This trove of data is accessible to any and all interested parties. Flight API comes complete with documentation, as well as code examples in several popular programming languages, with Java, PHP, NodeJS, Python, Angular2 and the Unix command line currently featured in the Quickstarts section.

The offered technical breadth serves the business vision, which is to stimulate internal as well as cross-sector innovation. To facilitate this, Schiphol organises hackathons for internal developers and third parties, who are encouraged to try, tweak, change and improve the Flight API.

The setup of the API itself is also subject to change. It went live in March 2017, after a limited release in November 2016. Back then, it was running on 3scale – Red Hat’s API management platform – and, in December, was wrapped in a container and moved to Red Hat’s platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering, OpenShift Dedicated.

Schiphol has been a user of Red Hat products for some time, but the digital transformation currently underway has led to a tightening of the relationship.

“It’s certainly not a hit and run project. It’s a joint journey to the goal of world-leading digital airport,” said Roel Hodzelmans, senior systems architect at Red Hat in the Netherlands.

Journey in the widest sense

At Red Hat’s summit in Boston in 2017, Hodzelmans gave a talk about the ambitious airport journey, presented together with Schiphol’s senior systems architect Mechiel Aalbers and Rubix integration specialist Pim Gaemers.

Describing the digital journey of the Dutch national airport to Computer Weekly, Hodzelmans said the overarching goal was to improve the traveller’s journey in the widest sense possible, ranging from deciding on a specific flight to driving a car to the airport and enjoying smart parking.

In the background, many employees, contractors, processes and IT systems are involved in this mission to offer a smoother service. This goes beyond more obvious matters such as check-in lines and luggage handling, to cover underlying matters such as efficient and flexible scheduling of personnel and supplies. To encompass this wide range of elements and variables, a flexible IT infrastructure is needed.

Cloud computing is often pitched as the perfect system for growing and shrinking needs. The elasticity and scalability of clouds lure many organisations to that form of computing.

This is not so for Schiphol. The Dutch airport going a step further by opting for multiple public clouds, which will allow it to avoid the risk of cloud lock-in.

Containers in multi-clouds

The use of multiple clouds from different suppliers offers another advantage, said Hodzelmans. “You can let your workloads land wherever it’s most sensible for them to land,” he said. Different cloud configurations can have different characteristics and features, which make them more or less suitable for different applications.

To guarantee portability of its workloads Schiphol is embracing containers, in which IT applications plus any dependencies are wrapped in a standardised – and hence shippable – way.

Schiphol’s move to public multi-clouds landed on Red Hat’s OpenShift Dedicated, which is a form of managed hosting. “It is the starting point to build out the strategic vision and avoid erecting something that gives growing pains later on,” said Hodzelmans.

Going from OpenShift Dedicated to OpenShift Container Platform (formerly OpenShift Enterprise) is just a few clicks away. Schiphol is also using the latter, running on Microsoft’s cloud platform Azure.

Microsoft is part of the open source solution for Schiphol, and Hodzelmans pointed to the strategic alliance that the two IT suppliers have for support, with both companies having experts who work in each other’s headquarters.

Red Hat also has ties with cloud giant Amazon Web Services (AWS) and strives for a neutral position in the cloud market. In this regard, cloud suppliers are interchangeable, as demonstrated by Hodzelmans’ look back at the Red Hat Summit talk he gave together with Schiphol architect Aalbers and Rubix specialist Gaemers.

“We did a live demo of its Developer API on OpenShift running on both AWS and Azure. One cloud was pre-configured, the other was dynamically provisioned as part of the live demo showing the dynamic multi-cloud abilities,” he said.

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