UK rail ticketing services get next-generation facelift with AWS cloud

Rail Settlement Plan, the supplier for IT and retail services to UK rail operators, is using AWS cloud to build next-generation ticketing systems

Rail Settlement Plan (RSP), the company that provides IT and retail services to UK rail operators, is upgrading its systems with AWS cloud to provide a next-generation ticket issuing systems as a growing number of commuters adopt the “click and collect” model.

The system will provide the rail industry with a flexible, high-availability cloud-based service. This will support ticketing on departure, where users collect rail tickets from self-service ticket machines after purchasing them earlier on the web.

The automated, on-demand infrastructure will enable train operating companies to support large fluctuations in demand for tickets during peak periods.

“Rail ticketing demand goes through seasonal and daily peaks and troughs, which makes it a great use case for cloud computing,” said Neil Miles (pictured), managing director at Smart421, the UK IT consultancy firm that will design, build and manage the new system for RSP.

RSP has signed a five-year contract to Smart421 to design a live sales management system using Amazon Web Services’ cloud platforms.

The AWS cloud implementation will begin in December this year with the new system ready in early 2014. But the contract includes a five-year 24/7 support service. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The cloud-based system can be scaled up to a billion tickets per annum by 2018 without more capital investment in computer hardware.

RSP can also scale it back during the off-peak times, saving it costs for itself and for the rail operators, which include Eurostar, Chiltern railways, East Coast, First Great Western, Virgin Trains, South West Trains and Scot Rail among others.

Among other benefits, it will allow RSP to support future delivery channels such as mobile and smartcards, as customers’ adopt these channels.

The new cloud-based sales management system is part of RSP’s IT modernisation plan to meet the demands of rail travellers who want the convenience that comes with mobile ticketing and systems such the London Underground Oyster card, Miles said told Computer Weekly.

“One of the key challenges the new system addresses is providing flexibility to the growing number of ticketing systems and retailers,” Miles said.

The new infrastructure will provide the basis for interoperability where a ticket can be sold through one channel, collected through a second and validated through another, he said.

It will also help the company upgrade the system to support new generations of ticketing technology that rail franchises may use in the future when issuing passenger tickets.

The cloud engine behind the ticketing systems

The RSP live sales management system will be built on a range of technologies in the AWS cloud, including: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) and Amazon Elastic Map Reduce (EMR).

Smart421 will use AWS as the cloud computing platform to deliver support for business processes, including deferred ticket delivery and sales reconciliation.

The system will receive, validate and store records in a secure repository, check the correct rail card has been used and deliver reporting on all transactions from all areas of the system.

It also integrates leading open source technologies such as an identity and access management platform (ForgeRock) and reporting database and reports server (Infobright and Jaspersoft) with the core transaction process and routing platform (RedHat).

Addressing security concerns of the public cloud service

To overcome the data security issues of cloud computing and all-time high-availability challenges, the system will be built across multiple availability zones in the AWS European region.

“We have taken security very seriously. Starting with the basics, we are taking advantage of a highly secure environment in the AWS Cloud that is ISO 27001 certified,” Miles said. 

The security layering of the new system will include measures to minimise any attack surface and tightly manage access via Identity & Access Management (IAM) controls. Smart421 will also apply the security design patterns that best exploit the security measures already built into the AWS cloud, Miles said.

While it provides a flexible, secure and highly-available ticketing system for rail operators to serve their customers, what does it bring to RSP’s infrastructure?

One of the challenges RSP’s IT team faced with the old system was ensuring lower total cost of ownership, protecting revenue and opening up systems without compromising customer data security.

Cloud computing’s utility-based computing model will help it minimise infrastructure costs – one of the key advantages in a time of shrinking IT budgets.

“This live sales management project will deliver high-quality service at reasonable cost which is good news for all industry stakeholders,” said Steve Howes, managing director at RSP. “We realise that this project will be watched very carefully because of its importance to RSP and the train operating companies we serve.”

The AWS-based sales management system is also vital to updating RSP’s business services over the next few years and is the first step in the company’s IT modernisation programme.

The AWS cloud infrastructure will allow RSP’s IT team to focus on serving the train operating companies rather than on managing and scaling internal technology infrastructure, Miles said.

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