Starwood checks in with Progress

Checking rates online for a room at a Sheraton or Westin hotel is no longer a fingerdrumming experience. And Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, the owner and operator of that online reservations system, gives credit in large part to a humble little object database from Progress Software Corp.

For the past year, Starwood — which also operates W Hotels along with the Le Meredian, St. Regis and Four Points chains — has been slowly offloading its rates and availability system from an aging mainframe to a distributed set of applications running on Linux servers, said Song Park, director of pricing and availability technologies at Starwood’s White Plains, N.Y. headquarters.

Embedded in 10 of those applications are copies of the ObjectStore Enterprise real-time database from Bedford, Mass.-based Progress. While those applications still exchange data in real-time with a central Oracle 10g database, they can run faster queries with the embedded ObjectStore database.

“Our throughput [with Oracle] used to be hundreds of transactions per minute,” Park said. “Now, it’s hundreds per second. And the way it can scale — it doesn’t even compare.”

Park chose ObjectStore over caching solutions such as Coherence from Tangosol Inc. “With caching technologies, you have to pop things into memory and then take it back out,” he said. “ObjectStore is more integrated into your application. You don’t have to worry about the vendor’s supplied container. You build your own container. Modeling and development is more seamless.”

The increased speed will allow Starwood in the future to do more complicated yield management — industry-speak for how airlines and hotels adjust room prices in real-time as supply and demand fluctuates. And that helps maximize revenue.

The change will also allow Starwood to offer better features to customers, reservations systems such as Sabre or travel Web sites like Expedia, including the ability to check prices and availability of a specific room in a particular hotel.

Park expects to have the rates and availabilty system completely running on the ObjectStore-embedded applications by year’s end. The main issue he has encountered with ObjectStore is deciding how deeply to integrate it into applications.

Tweaking Objectstore or the data it holds can mean asking his developers to rewrite the application. “With better performance, you lose a degree of flexibility,” Park said.

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