JetBlue Airways built its business leveraging the latest in technological innovation and now the maverick darling of the airline industry plans to forge ahead into service-oriented architecture (SOA) to keep that high-tech lead.
Yesterday it announced it had chosen Santa Monica, Calif.-based SOA Software Inc.'s combined registry, management and security offering to handle the build out of its new Web services initiative. JetBlue senior application architect Tyrone Paige said the move was an elective one on the part of the airline, designed to prepare it for what it expects to be the IT requirements of business in the future.
"The way we are now, we don't really have to have Web services yet, but my job is to be a visionary," Paige said. "We want to stay ahead of the curve and this is where the technology is headed."
From in-flight television to telecommuting reservations agents to pilots carrying laptops, JetBlue demonstrated a willingness to rethink the way technology could affect the airline industry from its inception. Web services have yet to proliferate throughout the travel industry like they have in the financial industry, but airlines, hotels, car rental companies, travel agencies and reservations sites all exist in a symbiotic ecosystem, constantly pushing and pulling information between each other.
"You just want to have the flexibility to do a lot of different things," Paige said. "Whatever's coming, we need to be ready for it."
By starting its Web services ramp up before it becomes a mandatory part of doing business, Paige hopes to mold the behavior of his developers around the concept in a gradual process. Noting that JetBlue is mostly a Microsoft .NET shop, Paige said, "We're not very composite yet with our applications."
One of the features that most attracted him to the SOA Software Service Manager product was its security features, centered around an XML VPN, which vets Web services packets as they enter the internal network and a management tool that checks and assigns security and policy requirements for new services.
"You don't want to have your developers worrying about security," Paige said. "This allows them to concentrate on what they do best and have someone else worry about the security policies."
He also wants his developers to start learning the ins and outs of Web services registries.
"I want to get people used to registering Web services and going to the registry to get the services," he said. "This way the services architecture grows up inside the registry."
Recently, analysts have been stressing the necessity of a registry at the center of any SOA initiative.
Ian Goldsmith, vice president of product marketing for SOA Software, views the travel industry as a potential boom market for Web services deployment, noting that reservations hubs like Sabre Inc. and Expedia.com are constantly hungering for up-to-date information from travel providers like JetBlue.
"And if they could talk Web services to each other, wouldn't that be nice?" Goldsmith said.
He targets ease of use as one of the keys to adoption as Web services look to tackle new markets, noting that a mature and reliable set of Web services standards alone won't bring new users into the fold.
"The problem is, it's still hard to use," Goldsmith said, noting that it's unrealistic to expect developers to manage access to the presentation, data and business logic layers; juggle disparate user needs; and do it all in an interoperable and repeatable fashion.
"You have to abstract security and management from development," he said.
Paige intends to have those development and management roles fully established by the time the Web services wave washes over his industry.
"By starting now, it gives you some time to do some things, to test some things and to play with some things so that we're ready when the lights go on," he said.