Worldspan expands technology deal with IBM

US travel technology company Worldspan LP has signed a five-year contract worth over US$350 million with IBM Corp. to update its system, it announced Tuesday.

The deal includes hardware, software and services and is to help Worldspan enhance its system by making it more accessible via the Internet and at the same time lower costs for its customers, Worldspan of Atlanta said in a statement.

Worldspan provides travel data, booking capabilities and other online products to travel agencies, travel service providers and corporations. The company was founded in 1990 and is owned by affiliates of Delta Airlines Inc., Northwest Airlines Corp. and American Airlines Inc., according to its Web site.

Worldspan's system is based on IBM's Transaction Processing Facility (TPF) platform, a mainframe-based operating system and transaction processor. TPF was developed about 40 years ago by IBM and is sold under license to many airlines as well as many financial institutions.

Under the deal, Worldspan will buy a variety of IBM server computers as well as a host of IBM software including the J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) WebSphere application server and development tools, Tivoli systems management software and the DB2 database, an IBM spokeswoman said.

The IBM products allow Worldspan to tie its TPF-based system to the Internet with the WebSphere application server as middleware. Worldspan's customers will be able to use Java-based applications to access the mainframe system, David Lauderdale, senior vice president of worldwide technical operations at Worldspan, said in an interview.

"In the early days of the large server world, all applications and communications lived within that mainframe. What this new path yields for us is that now those applications can live in portable and reusable java-based code that lives out in the distributed world and closely integrates with the large server world of TPF," he said.

The agreement with IBM extends Worldspan's allegiance to TPF, the alternative was to abandon the TPF-based system, Lauderdale said.

"It renews the life of the TPF large server solution by putting the portable and open WebSphere code between it and the user experience," he said. "We had to find more efficient and flexible means of growing our (business) concept. We considered going down to Microsoft (Corp.) and choosing an HP (Hewlett-Packard Co.) type solution. But now with WebSphere we see a good path going forward with our applications," he said.

Worldspan does work with software from Microsoft for some of its services, including some provided to online travel vendor Expedia Inc., a majority-owned subsidiary of USA Interactive, said Lauderdale.

Enhanced Web-based services are perhaps the most visual of the next generation services Worldspan will be able to offer using the new products and services from IBM, Bill Diffenderffer, vice president travel and transportation at IBM Global Services said in an interview.

"This will allow Worldspan to extend its TPF platform across a broader set of hardware and software technologies in order to deliver next generation services to the travel industry," he said.

Worldspan will also increase the number of IBM consultants it uses, including advisers from the consulting division of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (PwC) that was acquired by IBM last year, said Diffenderffer.

Cendant Corp., parent of Worldspan rival Galileo, in late 2001 signed a 10-year, US$1.4 billion outsourcing agreement with IBM for its over 40 business units in the real estate, financial and travel industries.

Worldspan won't outsource, said Lauderdale.

"We deem our technology and control mission critical and very strategic and we have no plans to outsource that," he said.

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