Galileo moves fare pricing onto Unix-based system

Galileo International , one of the four major worldwide reservation systems that handle travel industry bookings, is implementing a Unix-based fare-pricing system that will enable it to change and publish fares more cheaply and quickly to meet the demands of travel Web sites.

With the new system, Rosemont, Ill.-based Galileo's biggest customers, the airlines, can more profitably manage their pricing schemes through ATPco, the industry-funded company that publishes fares.

Galileo, a subsidiary of Cendant Corp. that is what is commonly known as a global distribution system (GDS), has preempted its competitor Sabre Holdings Corp. in Fort Worth, Texas. Sabre, announced plans last fall to move its shopping engine to an open system using NonStop Himalaya servers from Compaq Computer Corp. over four years.

Galileo has its new system up and running for some customers and will complete the migration for the rest in a couple of months.

"This new pricing system will enable Galileo to accept an automated feed from ATPco of all United [and other airline] airfares," said Kathleen A. Bennett, senior manager of GDS management at United Air Lines Inc. in Chicago, a subsidiary of UAL Corp. Galileo hosts United's reservation systems.

"Previously, United's fares and corresponding fare rules were manually coded in the GDS. There were some system constraints regarding the GDS's ability to handle the more complex fare rules, which will be addressed with this new system," she said. "The additional benefit will be the timeliness of the fares being available in our reservation system." United's migration will be completed by the end of this month.

While he wouldn't divulge the total cost of the project, Galileo CIO Mickey Lutz said his company wouldn't wait long to reap financial gain from the technology upgrade.

"This is a hugely compelling project for us," Lutz said. He expects the project to save "tens of millions of dollars," this year alone in hardware maintenance and programming costs.

The hardware for Unix platform includes eight Sun Microsystems Inc. 6800 servers with the new SPARC III chip.

Both Galileo and Sabre are trying to create more flexible fare-pricing systems. The millions of daily queries from online travel companies, including Expedia Inc., Sabre subsidiary Travelocity Inc. and Orbitz LLC, and the need to adjust pricing on the fly for those sites, are almost impossible to manage in the current system.

Built on the Transaction Processing Facility (TPF) mainframe databases first developed by IBM for the airlines in the 1960s, these reservation systems, as they exist now, have layers of archaic business rules built one on top of another in 360 Assembler language. Each change has to take into account the previous 30 or 40 years' worth of rules. With a shortage of TPF programmers, those in the workforce are expensive to hire, so any programming changes to the business rules in a fare-pricing structure take a long time to make and cost a lot of money.

That situation pushed Galileo to switch at least part of its infrastructure off the TPF system.

"In our industry, it's viewed as an archaic environment, but realistically, its one of the fastest, if not the fastest, computing environments that's ever been created. We're not going to replace TPF for the sake of replacing it. We're not going to go out and just spend money to replace TPF," Lutz said.

TPF is still part of the infrastructure at Galileo, but for how long is a question. "I'm not going to say we're not going to replace it, but it's not a strategy yet. It is a strategy for fares," Lutz said.

While Galileo has no specific plans to be moved entirely off the TPF system, this is a significant step.

"We totally rewrote the whole pricing system," said Randy Smith, senior director of product innovation at Galileo.

"When you look at the whole GDS environment, the largest processing part of that environment is [writing fares]," Lutz said, "The growth area of usage in that environment is in faring, predominantly because of the Web."

Lutz said his company has been quiet about the switch, which began in December, because of a shift in priorities after Sept. 11 and the subsequent fallout in the travel industry. Lutz also was reluctant to tout a project before he knew it was working.

"People like me needed to get comfortable with what we're doing around this technology strategy," Lutz said.

IBM will continue to manage Galileo's reservation center in Denver as part of a deal announced in late November for all of Cendant, and it did have some part in the transition, though outsourcer Electronic Data Systems Corp. in Plano, Texas, was hired to implement the new system. Galileo staff designed the new Unix system.

"On top of Sabre's deal with Compaq, this shows that IBM's toehold on the travel transaction backbone is starting to slip," said Henry Harteveldt, analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

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