Challenging conventional enterprise wisdom, IHG dared to imagine the "unthinkable." What if the company reinvented its reservation processing and data center architecture by locating pockets of transaction processing in the different geographical areas of the world that its hotels and guests were located in? "As a global company, we thought about this for several reasons, and you can look at China as a prime example," says Koehler. "China is our second-largest hospitality market, and we presently have 200 new hotels under construction that will add to this. Yet, 90 percent of the hospitality business in China is from domestic travelers. Few of these hotel guests travel outside of the country." To effectively serve this group with rapid transaction processing, IHG had to find a way to circumvent WAN firewall and policy constraints.
IHG decided to pursue several strategies:
- Systematically "unload" transaction processing loads from its Atlanta-based data center to the various geographical locales that owned the transactions
- Leverage cloud-based processing technology
- Move away from internal infrastructure maintenance and proprietary system architectures to "commodity-based" processing on Intel servers that takes place anytime, anywhere
"We want to stay out of the IT infrastructure business and instead focus our attention on our core business, which is meeting the needs of our guests," says Koehler. "We are approaching this project by splitting our monolithic reservation data repository into data shards that can be located in the various geographical locations that we serve throughout the world. By doing this in a country like China, we can process all reservations pertaining to that market inside of the Chinese firewall, so we no longer encounter the latency or the WAN firewall issues that can impact customer service."
Koehler estimates that about 25 percent of data has been relocated, but it will take time to carefully transition data shards to different global locations. Nevertheless, the strategy points the company in a direction where it can leverage the benefits of cloud services, improve WAN performance and, most importantly, deliver premium guest services in a highly competitive market.
"By pursuing this approach, we're following a model that has already worked for global organizations like Amazon and Google," says Koehler. "From a transaction security standpoint, they have similar requirements. Transactions must be secure and reliable, and the cloud must be able to provide certified SAS70 and PCI [Payment Card Industry standards] results, in addition to meeting a rigorous set of SLAs [service level agreements]. The reality is, we don't expect this to give us a better return on investment than the traditional way we have been processing transactions, but we have to look at expanding our capabilities for a global network of business. We can do this by treating every one of our guests the same and not penalizing someone in another part of the world because of a WAN issue."