It’s never been more complicated to be an airport operator. The on-demand, always-on world requires transportation systems that are always available, particularly those in the high-pressure travel industry. From airport gates to baggage claim and reservation systems, it’s vital that operations that involve moving people or luggage around avoid downtime. At the end of last year, a reported 5.6 million Brits had already purchased their 2019 summer getaways, meaning that even short periods of downtime can have catastrophic consequences for holidaymakers. As history has shown, an airport or airline falling foul of downtime can lead to thousands of people not being able to check in, board flights or collect their luggage, disrupting holiday plans and often resulting in reputation damage.
This summer in particular has been littered with travel chaos due to systems outages causing havoc for families, and many of these airlines have found themselves in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Ultimately, the travel industry, especially airports, need to be better prepared for outages so that they can ensure business continuity and meet consumer expectations. By doing so, they will be able to keep operations running smoothly at every point of the journey, at any time of the year.
Why backup and recovery are no longer enough
With people often spending months looking forward to their summer getaways, how can an airline’s CEO begin to justify a delayed flight due to an IT failure that leaves holiday-goers stranded in an airport? The truth is that customers are unlikely to be very forgiving, no matter how the issue is communicated. Even with a robust disaster recovery plan in place, damage to business reputation and loss of revenue is inevitable, which is why the issue of today isn’t solely focused on being able to recover from an incident as efficiently as possible. Ensuring the high availability of critical IT systems and data is now a significant issue and often a pain point for those responsible for the running of airline processes.
Airports have applications and systems that store proprietary IP which, for example, keep air traffic control running. In these cases, downtime for even a few minutes could cause irreparable damage to revenue and productivity, backing up flights and causing chaos among disgruntled passengers. This highlights that backup and recovery alone is no longer good enough. Travel organisations have to be able to go beyond this and ensure that their infrastructure isn’t leaving them short. For example, snapshot-based backups often aren’t intended to provide continuous availability, and while this type of technology may be great for many systems and applications, recovery time and point objectives (RTOs and RPOs) still need to be considered.
Don’t let downtime get in the way of sun, sea and sand
IT professionals in the travel sector are often busy dealing with a vast range of issues, from keeping up with passenger traffic to minimising the delays consumers face when moving through terminals – both of which are imperative when it comes to the reputation of an airport. Creating a seamless travel process is crucial, but a significant roadblock to this is the lack of infrastructure development within airports – especially when it comes to dealing with outages and downtime.
It’s important that IT professionals in the travel sector truly understand the concept of “availability,” which is so often confusing and used to describe technology that doesn’t deliver on this promise. So, what does true application and system availability mean? And, more importantly, what does it not mean?
Some “high availability” solutions require manual failover, increasing the time from detection to mitigation. This means it’s not high availability – it’s just replication with a short RPO. Moreover, some only support virtual environments with VM-level replication, meaning application and/or system-level replication is overlooked for other environments. This not only leaves businesses exposed but often adds additional complexity and significantly more cost.
For the critical systems and applications that can’t be disrupted, the travel industry needs to turn to solutions with a journal-based process that replicates data in real-time at the file system level of files/folders, applications, and full physical or virtual systems. Combining this with automatic failover – for continuous data protection of applications and systems on-premises, remote and in the cloud – will ensure that the nightmare of data loss becomes a distant memory.
In order for airports to stay out of the headlines and avoid backlash from angry customers, they must change their approach to protecting systems and applications by moving from a focus on backup to focusing on continuous data protection and availability. Shifting their mindset away from RTOs and RPOs to never needing to recover in the first place (remember, backups concentrate on recovery, not downtime prevention) will ensure that airports are always prepared to provide the best service possible – from the peak summer months through to Christmas getaways.
Mick Bradley, VP EMEA, Arcserve