Swissport swaps Hyperion for open source BI

Airline services business Swissport has switched from commercially licensed business intelligence software to open source.

Airline services business Swissport has switched from commercially licensed business intelligence software to open source.

Swissport started using Hyperion (now owned by Oracle) a few years ago as its corporate BI platform, before Hyperion was sold to Oracle. But with the base Hyperion software listing at $800 per user on the Oracle website, Swissport could afford only a few of the 50 licences wanted by business managers, according to Uwe Geercken, IT manager at Swissport.

However, to get the most out of a BI platform, IT analysts like Gartner recommend deployment to as many users as possible. BI software provides staff with information that can help them make decisions quicker, which analysts believe is a more effective use than just to support management decisions.

The cost of Hyperion also limited how Swissport could use BI to support other systems. "We had a budget for a CRM project, but we did not want to spend money on extra [Hyperion] licences," he said.

Around the time that Oracle acquired Hyperion in March 2007, Geercken started looking for cheaper alternatives. "Staff were restricted by the licensing fee, so we started looking for a platform where we would not incur one."

By chance, Geercken was introduced to a company called InfoBright, which produces a columnar database based on MySQL. Swissport had started to use the open source MySQL database server in production, and was looking for a data warehouse (the cargo department wanted to combine cargo-related data with its financial information). The columnar capability of InfoBright's product meant that MySQL could be deployed as the cargo department's data warehouse.

Swissport rolled out the open source data warehouse, hiring Linalis, a Geneva-based IT consultant. It used an open source BI tool, Pentaho, to move data from the company's cargo system into InfoBright.

According to Geercken, end-users did not notice any loss of quality when Swissport switched from Hyperion to open source Pentaho-based BI, MySQL and Infobright. "Pentaho had the complete BI toolset, and after further testing, our users noticed no difference in the features they need," he said.

Linalis also provided open source training so that Swissport can now manage future projects based on the open source BI tools itself.

In autumn 2009, Swissport launched a major project to set up key performance indicators across the company. The system to support this, called Toms (technical operational management system), was built in-house.

Toms draws in data from Swissport's core systems such as its roster control system (which covers staff shifts, overtime, and so on) and its ground handling systems (for tracking flights, baggage handling, check in and de-icing).

As the first part of the global roll-out of Toms, Swissport's top 100 senior executives will use Pentaho BI Suite Enterprise Edition to review operational and strategic data spanning 40 countries.

Toms is a browser-based application, based on Microsoft's and Ajax programming models. It replaces a reporting system based on Microsoft Excel, and is accessed remotely via Citrix. Servers are hosted by HP.

Geercken said the open source BI project had shown that it is possible to run a mixed IT environment. He said Swissport had moved from running purely Windows-based servers for its enterprise IT to a mixed environment, using Linux to power the data warehouse.

"Last year we began using Red Hat Enterprise Edition Linux servers, because all our Windows servers were 32-bit." The 64-bit architecture available on Red Hat has allowed Swissport to boost the performance of certain memory-intensive applications, that benefit from the 8GB of memory installed on the 64-bit HP servers.

Swissport provides 600 airlines at 170 airports with services such as check-in, lost and found, aircraft maintenance, and cargo and baggage. It has 38,000 staff and operates in 38 countries.

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