Galileo travels down Web services path

Galileo International Inc. is cracking open the proprietary systems and networks it has run for 30 years, a move aimed at revolutionizing and personalizing the way it does business.

The preeminent distributor of fare and booking information for the travel industry is deconstructing its entrenched applications, such as those for handling airline fare inquiries and ticket booking, into Web services components with interfaces based on Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). The intent is to turn what is today a one-size-fits-all approach to dispensing travel information into a pliable environment where customers can stitch together Web services components into customized applications that can be accessed from any platform.

Galileo is testing four Web services with major customers and hopes to deploy them soon. These include services for creating itineraries, booking travel, encoding and decoding airport and destination information, and providing updates on plane status after takeoff. In the future, Galileo plans to create as many Web services as customers demand.

“The first four are the very biggest blocking and tackling components,” says Todd Dubner, vice-president of product innovation for Galileo. One example is the Itinerary Inquiry, a Web service – or what Galileo calls a SOAP service – that returns flight, car and hotel availability based on a given destination and date.

The data has always been available from Galileo, but to get it out of its proprietary systems and network, customers had to endure a series of steps including authentication to the various sets of data, and individual processes to query pricing and availability related to airlines, car rentals and hotels.

Galileo has built services around all the necessary itinerary transactions and aggregated them into a SOAP service that is activated via a Web server.

“We have 30 years of [application] development locked up in our systems that perform all sorts of functions for the travel distribution space, and they have been captive functions for Galileo that we distribute through our proprietary network,” Dubner says.

The company maintains a private frame-relay network for connectivity to its travel agent customers and travel company data suppliers.

“With the inception of Web services, we can let our customers access us the way they want over whatever network they want,” Dubner says. “We will modularize our global distribution system functions so a travel agency or corporate customer can arrange our business objects in such a way that they meet their specific business needs.”

Big Decision

But it’s been no small decision for the company to tinker with its global distribution system (GDS), which is the heart of Galileo’s business.

The GDS is updated constantly with fare and reservation information from 500 airlines, 227 hotel operators, 32 car rental agencies, 368 tour operators and all the major cruise lines. It handles 350 million requests for information per day and 92 billion transactions per year, and boasts an uptime of 99.95 percent. Last year, more than 345 million travel reservations were booked through Galileo’s systems from more than 178,000 terminals in 115 countries, which generated an estimated US$55 billion in travel-related services.

Galileo has spent nearly two years devising and testing its plan to roll out Web services so it enhances that operation, even though it says creating the actual Web services interfaces can take as little as a few hours. Currently, Galileo has a team of 28 people devoted to developing Web services, but that is expected to grow over time.

After all that planning, Galileo is convinced Web services isn’t a risky investment.

“In terms of our capital plan for this year, while we see this as a significant growth initiative, it does not represent a significant portion of capital, so we see this as a relative low-risk investment for us,” Dubner says.

In terms of development, Galileo says creating Web services has not increased its costs because new development tools automatically generate much Web services code used as interfaces to existing business logic.

Web services promise Galileo component and code reuse, foster new services such as Itinerary Inquiry, and open new sources of revenue.

The Web services also will be used for travel services on and, two Web sites that Galileo’s parent company, Cendant, runs.

Galileo also will use Web services to build components such as from Highwire, its self-booking tool for corporations, to those for profile maintenance, policy management and calendars.

“All of these things are functions that can become Web services so we build them once for one of our products and then make them available to our other customers, and in the process it saves us tremendous dollars in terms of development of new products,” Dubner says.

A New World

In this new world, Galileo will host the Web services on its network, freeing itself from having to update software at client sites.

“The travel agents are no longer interacting with software inside their shop. They are interacting with Galileo via a SOAP interface and XML,” Dubner says. “It gets us away from the tyranny of a release cycle.”

Galileo had required users to run a Windows-based server to interact with a data language Galileo developed three years ago called XML Select, a standard way to describe concepts such as a car or hotel. XML Select converted Component Object Model components used in client-side applications into XML documents. Those documents were fed to adapters in Galileo’s network that converted the XML into triggers that would touch off transactions on the mainframe.

While the adapters remain, customers no longer need the Windows-based server running in their environment.

“With Web services we are not demanding that our customers function on any specific platform,” Dubner says.

Everything is executed on the Galileo network. It’s a big shift but it has not meant big changes to the company’s computing infrastructure except for security.

“When we exposed our product through a central point such as the host system and our own client products before, we had a much tighter control on how our users were authenticated,” says Glen Zwart, principal engineer for Galileo. “Now as we start to expose that product in different ways, we have to change those models.”

Zwart says Galileo is closely following standards work in Web services, but for now has created its own authentication and security mechanisms similar to what is available on the Web today.

Galileo doesn’t have to scrap any of its computing platforms – including mainframes running the Transaction Processing Facility operating system and its 30-year-old processes, Windows and assorted flavours of Unix – or its IBM WebSphere application servers, Microsoft Internet Information Servers and code written with Java tools and Microsoft’s Visual Studio.Net.