Modern airlines are extraordinarily dependent on technology, and running IT for an airline requires solving unusual challenges, nearly around the clock. Alaska Airlines has a reputation in the industry as a technology innovator, both in the cockpit and on the ground, and the airline was the first in the United States to offer web check-in and online ticket sales and booking.
The airline designates over 25 applications as business critical, managing everything from aircraft weights and balances to e-commerce applications that drive billions of dollars in revenue.
These applications handle crew scheduling, baggage logistics, fuel requirements, maintenance, and every aspect of operations. They even track how much weight is carried and where it is distributed on over 200 flights daily, which must be calculated accurately before a plane can leave the gate. To compound this complexity, the Alaska Airlines tier-1 datacenters are connected to airports across the United States, as well as to remote locations from Nome, Alaska, to Zihuatanejo, Mexico.
Many of Alaska Airlines' applications run on a highly scalable three-tier architecture. Application delivery controllers distribute load across a tier of web servers, which in turn rely on a tier of application servers and database servers. Layered in between these tiers are multiple network components, security devices, petabytes of storage, and authentication and directory services.
The number of devices and tiers translates into a massive number of moving parts. Statistically, this complexity would result in constant failure. Although some companies are willing to accept a certain level of failure, Alaska Airlines does not tolerate underperformance.
ExtraHop Networks approached Alaska Airlines with a simple value proposition: given the airline's operational scale, even a small increase in effectiveness would translate into substantial revenue increases and improvements in customer-impacting metrics, such as on-time flight performance. Despite Alaska Airlines' industry-leading IT position, IT performance could be improved further.
Alaska Airlines knew that they needed to treat each application as an integrated whole. For example, a customer trying to buy a ticket online does not care if a browser error is the result of a database problem or a network problem; the customer just wants to buy a ticket. Transactions needed to be monitored across all tiers to enable Alaska Airlines to measure and improve performance.
Passive Database Monitoring
Prior to using the ExtraHop platform, Alaska Airlines' IT team had to be aware that a problem was occurring with its weight and balance application before they could intervene. At that point, the IT team would use native operating system tools to manually assess the health of the infrastructure running their Informix database servers. To obtain even more specific transaction-level data, they had to turn on database profiling, a prohibitive step to take in the production environment due to the added overhead.
The ExtraHop platform is the only solution that provides an integrated view across all tiers, and with the ExtraHop database module, Alaska Airlines' Informix databases could be observed continuously from a passive, zero-overhead perspective, with traffic reconstructed to record both network- and application-level metrics, down to the query responsible for a particular database error.
With the ExtraHop platform deployed, Alaska Airlines has continued to see consistent improvement in both application and network performance, in addition to much greater speed in identifying and troubleshooting problems.
Real-time insights into the performance of its Informix database has saved countless hours for the IT team and helped ensure on-time departures of flights. With a real-time view and ability to drill down to transaction-level details, the IT team has early warning of emerging problems and is able to diagnose the root causes of slowness and intermittent errors without the need for system-wide database profiling.
The implementation of the ExtraHop platform by the Alaska Airlines IT team has demonstrated how an industry leader can achieve previously unattainable levels of IT performance and reliability. With ExtraHop, Alaska Airlines IT team can continue to outperform and achieve operational excellence.