Amadeus turns to Azure cloud to orchestrate biometrics and other airport systems
As digital transformation becomes increasingly important for businesses of all sizes, technology provider Amadeus is using the cloud to help drive change in the travel industry. By moving its IT infrastructure and applications to Microsoft Azure cloud, Amadeus is working on providing a better experience for travelers, the company explained in a new white paper documenting the process.
The cloud transition will both directly and indirectly benefit traveler ID and digital health initiatives that are underway while ensuring secure handling of biometric and other passenger data. In a rapidly changing marketplace for travel services, Amadeus said moving more business processes to the cloud will make it easier for airlines and other travel companies to do business with travelers.
Biometric identification use case
Governments and immigration authorities are expected to eventually require biometric exit at airports. This means connecting an airport up to each government’s own identity management platform, as well as matching passengers’ identities with airlines’ passenger data using biometric data such as facial or fingerprint scans. IATA, the international trade association for the world’s airlines, has launched a contactless travel initiative building on verifiable credentials, so that passengers can move through airports without exchanging physical travel documents. Implementing these systems requires cooperation between a variety of organizations.
For example, earlier this year, Amadeus said that passengers at Narita Airport in Japan will be able to check in using new biometric kiosks (built with partner NEC) by using cameras to capture the passenger’s facial image and verify it against their passport. The same process is used at Narita’s security and boarding e-Gates, to validate the passenger’s identity and permission to fly. The new biometric process at Narita Airport is using the IATA One ID. Following successful trials, it will be adopted as the new standard for all international departures at the airport.
Looking ahead, requirements that travelers have health checks to board planes are likely to be commonplace. IBM has partnered to integrate its Digital Health Pass into Amadeus’ Traveler ID for Safe Travel digital health verification solution to facilitate the process of validating the COVID-related information of travelers.
The ability to use cloud systems to store data securely, whether it is digital identification or payment information, is one step to providing the aforementioned services; another is to use cloud services to integrate disparate systems used by airports, airlines, and government and security authorities, and then quickly and securely process the data. These are the key attributes Amadeus is claiming to have gained with its Microsoft partnership.
Digital transformation – Amadeus’ journey
Moving applications to Azure would be very time consuming if Amadeus had not already been doing a huge amount of work. The company noted that they decommissioned old-style, centralized mainframe systems use for transaction processing – a process that took 400 full-time engineers and a peak of 1500 engineers to complete. Another key step was in moving to open-source software through its partnership with Red Hat. Amadeus Cloud Services was a new internal cloud platform built on Red Hat OpenShift that was launched in 2014. These services still ran on hardware in the company’s own data center. What is new about the shift to Azure is the use of public cloud services that are in Microsoft facilities.
“Public cloud technology has evolved in such a way that it can now deliver an improved level of service than was previously possible through our private infrastructure,” says Denis Lacroix, SVP of the Cloud Transformation Program at Amadeus in the report.
Data center location
Biometric data needs to be processed near or at the location where it is gathered. Passenger flows through airports cannot be disrupted by IT system downtime or slow response times. Microsoft’s Azure cloud is located in data centers around the world.
Azure CTO Mark Russinovich comments, “Microsoft is investing in fast, distributed infrastructure to virtually eliminate latency concerns. The system is designed for ultra-low-latency access for large data and connectivity requirements. Azure Edge Zones, for example, provide compute, storage, and services such as containers at the edge. All of these elements will be extremely beneficial for customers of a globally distributed company like Amadeus.”
Microsoft is building between fifty and one hundred data centers each year — something that no single company like Amadeus can afford to do. The advantage, Russinovich says, is that “For low latency, it’s about having data and the compute power close to where your customers are. In Amadeus’ case, customers are all around the world and so they will have Azure access all over the world as well.”
Networks are needed to move data to Azure; Microsoft notes that it has the business relationships with telecoms and network services providers in place to make sure data moves quickly. Applications themselves run reliably through the use of software that routes traffic to different Azure regions, the company said.
Data sovereignty / protection
Data protection is another advantage of the move to the cloud, according to Amadeus. Complying with regulations such as GDPR is one aspect of protection; because Azure has in-country data centers, it is easier to ensure compliance with data processing regulations. Beyond that, new technologies could add another layer of protection.
Microsoft’s Russinovich says “confidential computing” technology, which refers to the ability to process encrypted data while it’s in use (rather than decrypting it before processing) would provide significantly higher levels of security for the aviation industry. He notes that Microsoft is working with Intel to enable Azure to be the first public cloud to have Intel’s SGX servers and they are working with AMD to launch confidential virtual machines.” This opens a whole world for the airline industry because you can protect sensitive data from application operators and the data holder,” he says.
Data sets from airlines, travel agencies, hotels, car rentals, cruise and more, are the key business lines feeding Amadeus systems, the company writes. Amadeus says that the combination of public cloud computing and machine learning will help the company “move to the era of predictive disruption management, where passengers receive alerts before disruption even happens.”
With seemingly ever-changing conditions such as travel bans due to COVID, passengers should surely be able to appreciate the benefits of moving to the cloud as much as flying above them.