Airports – Ready for the Cloud ?

Unlike airlines which are used to distributed operations and having systems like a reservation system hosted centrally at their hub (originating in the times of mainframe servers with access to this crucial part of their operations only via a remote connection), airports still tend to follow a much more traditional approach. Airport operations are local and and not geographically distributed like airlines, over decades they established local data-centres on-premise and created a mindset of full control only available with the server and IT services right in their basement. Along come big IT departments with teams of server-, network-, db-admins and support.

St. Albert at Dublin Airport, circa 1950 (CC by National LIbrary of Irland)

St. Albert at Dublin Airport, circa 1950 (CC by National Library of Ireland)

This paradigm is slowly changing, due to the fact airports need to cut cost and operate more efficiently. In parallel we can observe an attitude change at management levels, becoming more open to solutions which are outside of their physical control, they buy in the concept of SAAS, consuming a service on a subscription base with a well defined SLA and availability. This shift started with less crucial back-office systems, like Email-Server and document repositories, and now moving on towards more operation critical systems. Slow adopters or companies restricted by policies or governance issues start moving towards a private cloud, eventually cutting down on operations costs. Airports start to understand internet availability in the year 2015 reached a commodity level like water and electricity, they start to adopt even public cloud hosted services.
Zero tolerance systems like ATC or something less life critical like a FIDS system will remain certainly a local solution, but AODB’s are moving into the cloud. All the vendors jumped on the bandwagon and offer some kind of cloud solution, be in a private cloud offering (with the vendor) or even deployed to a public cloud. The potential in this approach is the opportunity to offer an AODB solution at a fraction of a price of traditional AODB projects. Deploying to a public cloud, without any local requirements other than an internet connection and a browser, a small airport can start using an AODB without any investment, maybe at a price as cheap as 3.000,- Euro monthly subscription. Assuming a smaller airport (less than 1 million PAX/year or something like 25..50 commercial flights a day plus GA) is operating with simple requirements (flight plan import and management, operational flight tracking,  billing, Type B and AFTN message interface).

To answer the questions: Yes, they are ready.
But it depends on the IT strategy of medium to big airports or the restricted budget and need of smaller airports.

Let’s see who is serving the long tail in the airport market !

Airport AODB and Big Data

There are 4 technology terms that almost every IT company in any vertical business picked up during the last few years: Cloud, Big Data, Mobile and Internet of Things. In this series I review some of these buzz words in the Airport IT business context.

Today I will review the question: Does AODB data qualify for Big Data ?

What is Big Data ? A term that everyone uses, from consumer, consultants, user to people at CxO level. All have it, want it, need it, do it. Everyone joins the crowd, though few really know what it is and how to apply it in one’s own context or if one actually has a reasonable use-case for Big Data. I would not attempt to explain Big Data in this article, rather pick key elements and try to apply them. Big Data is too big to swallow and it comes in so many use cases, technologies, brands, products, flavours and attributes from Amazon, Google, Facebook to SAP Hana, No SQL, Mongo DB, Map Reduce, Hadoop and NSA. You can google for the term Big Data, read the Wikipedia Page about it or read one of the hundreds of books about, I can recommend a few here that I read.

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Terra Ceia Island Farms gladiolus being loaded onto a U.S. Airlines plane at the Sarasota Airport (by State Library and Archives of Florida)

Do not expect an explicit yes or no answer in the end, though we will do a Big Data compliance check for every paradigm, but still I like to be open to find use cases.

The 3 (+3*) key words for that usually used to define Big Data:

  • Volume
    An enormous amount of data created by human interaction, machines and sensors
  • Velocity
    A massive and continuous flow of data from various sources, usually in real-time, but not limited to.
  • Variety
    Data from many sources in structured and unstructured form
  • Veracity*
    Noise and abnormality in data.
  • Validity*
    Correctness and accuracy of the data
  • Volatility*
    Data relevance. Lifespan of the data in which data shall be considered for any analysis.

(* Only the first 3 V’s – Volume, Velocity and Variety – are the canonical Big Data attributes, the additional V’s show up sometimes in discussion or papers, but they basically apply to all data.)

Some basic facts about an AODB product. An Aiport Operational Database is an enterprise application with a closed and rather predictable user-base. Depending on the size of the airport and the community serving it we might have up to 200 concurrent users and 1000 active accounts. It is not consumer facing, it is not social media, no click-streams and no input of sensors.

Volume

We need to build a data scenario in a typical or average AODB setup to discuss the term volume. I will try to create a typical scenario in order to create a total number of records or attributes over a typical time-span. Please consider this is as a simplified sample, the figures might vary a lot, depending on various factors, like country and region, international or regional, hub, primary airport, etc.
Usually the airport size in publications or comparisons is derived from the number of PAX and or movements of aircrafts per year.
For some references please refer to the ACI website.

A midsized airport around 20 to 30 million PAX a year might have around 500 turnarounds, this will be 1000 movements (arrival and departure).

Lets assume every movement have ..
20 milestones (scheduled, estimated, actual timings, A-CDM milestones or proprietary timings,..). Each of these milestones gets 3 updates (in average!)
10 load attributes (number of pax, total, by class, infants, cargo and weights,..). Each of these attributes gets 2 updates (in average!)
20 network messages (IATA Type B, AFTN, CFMU,..) This can vary extremely depending on the system landscape.
25 various attributes (flight number, registration, tailnumber, flightplan ID, aircraft type, callsign, resources, connecting flights,..) Each of these attributes gets 2 updates (in average!)
This results in 150 attributes (inclusive of updates) per movement. Applied to 1.000 movements day, we will have
150.000 attributes per day,
4.500.000 attributes per month
27.000.000 attributes per season (6 months, one seasonal schedule)

This approach is conservative, it does not cover audit or system logging. It does not consider a situation where the AODB serves as central data repository (warehouse?), with data-feeds from other systems for permanent storage. In more complex environments I saw requirements to process and store 10.000.000 ground radar updates or 1.000.000 updates from the Building Management system a day.

Do 27 million attributes in 6 months qualify for big data volume ?
In this case I would say no, but taking into the account the option to store more than one season of data and maybe to cover more than one location in a multi-airport situation, maybe yes !

Velocity

Do 150.000 attributes a day qualify for big data velocity ?
Braking down to an average of 1,7 updates a second, rather not. It does not require an Big Data architecture to process this.
Compare with Twitter (not a fair comparison though): ~10.000 tweets a second.

Variety

First, we have almost no unstructured data. Once the AODB has been put in place and production there are hardly changes in the structure of the data. Unstructured data might come with free format messages or partial free format content.
The variety also depends on the complexity of the IT landscape and the number of interfaces, AODB’s often play the role of central system integration and we face lot of inbound data streams, but they usually come in an agreed format.

 

Thoughts on Big Data Analysis

One of the selling points of Big Data is the analytic you can apply to the vast amount of data to identify patterns, extract useful knowledge and business value from the data collected. This might help to improve your business strategies or processes or focus on certain areas of value, even predict future scenarios given certain repeating conditions. We can see definitely value added to the AODB context here, though lot of the data is given and can be adjusted only with limitations or not at all, eg. flight schedules provided by airlines (usually result from slot coordination procedures) and the airport physical resources (stands, gates, belts,..). The potential lies in the analytic of actual data, even the airport can’t necessary change schedules, but with patterns emerging from actual data vs. scheduled data (eg. delays in dependency of certain weather, season, etc.), we can optimize the resources. Analysing connecting flight info can help to improve turnaround ground times and avoid delays, detecting frequent aircraft changes can help to improve gate allocation an other scenarios.
And looking at the big picture, if we would be able to collect from a network or countrywide or on a level like Eurocontrol, Big Data analysis certainly will create more valuable insights and improve on-time performance.

Big Data Bookshelf

Big Data: Principles and Best Practices of Scalable Realtime Data Systems

Big Data For Dummies

Ethics of Big Data: Balancing Risk and Innovation

Data Science for Business: What you need to know about data mining and data-analytic thinking

Some assorted links

Airport AODB in the Cloud and Big Data

Working for more than 15 years with IT systems in airport operations I pretty much experienced most areas from development, testing, system integration, documentation, training and project management. I spend many years on and with a classic client-server based system, partially with legacy technology, and designed and built an AODB from the scratch in new technology and deployed it to the cloud. Two topics drew my attention particularly in the last few years, the “AODB in the Cloud” and “AODB and Big Data”, I like to review them in some short articles here. This talk is politics-free and does not refer to specific products or companies.

For the reader without airport operational background my elevator speech description for AODB. (Did you notice ? there is no entry in Wikipedia for AODB.)

AODB – Aiport Operational Database
An AODB system is usually the core IT system to support the airport ground operations, it integrates with various systems from the heterogeneous IT landscape found at the airport, compiling data from airlines flights schedules, flight plan management, communication between airlines and airports to building management systems, live ground movements and many more systems.
It serves as platform for CDM (Collaborative Decision Making) for the various parties forming the airport community, from airport operators, airlines, groundhandling agents to ATC (Air Traffic Control).
It handles seasonal and operational flights by providing both real-time and historical data, supports resource management for facilities and equipment, as well for staff, it is an information portal.

The AODB itself can be reduced to a simple 3-tier piece architecture, a database, business logic processing layer and a frontend.
It can be complemented by ESB (Enterprise Service Bus), BI (Business Intelligence) and other components.

Unlike consumer (software) products, this is rather a niche market, and AODB systems are offered only by a couple of companies. To name a few (in alphabetical order):
Amadeus, Arinc, T-Systems, IBS, Inform, Intersystems, ISO, Ultra,.. I leave it to the reader to find out more about these companies and their products.

The U.S. National Archives At Portland International Airport 05/1973

I like to discuss in the next few blog entries the following topics triggered by the technical and operational evolution AODB systems are going through.

Image: At Portland International Airport 05/1973 by The U.S. National Archives (cc)

Dead Glassfish Connections

Running a complex web application with sessions and connections to the DB, MQ and HTTP clients brings you sooner or later into a discussion or problem with connections that have not been properly terminated by Glassfish or the client. Depending on the time-out settings in the OS and in Glassfish you might face CLOSE_WAIT connections. What is causing this is topic by itself, also helping the system to get rid of it. At the end quite likely the problem lies somewhere in the sourcecode.

In my case we found a large number of CLOSE_WAITS to Glassfish with strange IP addresses (closed enterprise app but open to public web).

Here only some helpful scripts (Linux/Ubuntu):

Find the Glassfish PID

jps | grep ASMain | awk '{ print $1 }'

#get it into variable
pid=$(jps | grep ASMain | awk '{ print $1 }')

Show all socket connections

netstat -anp | grep ESTABLISHED
netstat -anp | grep CLOSE_WAIT

Show all connections to Glassfish

netstat -anp | grep CLOSE_WAIT| grep $(jps | grep ASMain | awk '{ print $1 }')
netstat -anp | grep ESTABLISHED| grep $(jps | grep ASMain | awk '{ print $1 }')

Still a bit hard to review

netstat

netstat

Now lets sort by IP and count it (ignoring the ports)

netstat -anp | grep CLOSE_WAIT| grep $(jps | grep ASMain | awk '{ print $1 }')|awk '{print $5}'|awk -F':' '{print $1}'|sort -k1|uniq -c

Creates a list like this (number of connections and the related ip address)

netstat summary

netstat summary

You can pack this int a cron job or even get it combined with a geolocation webservice to find the user.

About Google Play formerly known as Android Market

I looked at some statistics last time in 2011, almost a 4 years back. Interesting to observe the changes and the evolution.

You can find the facts at AppBrain (http://www.appbrain.com/stats)

From ~175.000 applications in 2011 the number passed 1,5 million in February 2015. Surprisingly the number of apps with in-app billing is only 108.000. It feels like almost any application comes with this “feature”, pretty much every serious game.

I also logged into the developers console again, just remembered I published  some simple apps in 2011 to learn about the physics of the appstore.

Developer Console

Developer Console

Interesting enough they were downloaded 700+ and 200+ times. Wonder what figures this experiment would render when I start it again.

Continue reading

Connecting Samsung S3 S5 to Ubuntu for debugging Android Apps

Some things did not change since the early coding days with Linux and Android Phones , you still need to tinker with system files to allow USB access to the phone. Without the below steps you get “no permission” and offline errors in the Android Device Monitor.

Android Phone Settings

  1. Out-of-the-box the phone does not allow debugging. You need to find the developer options under phone settings and specifically allow USB debugging.

    Debug Options

    Debug Options

Ubuntu Settings Continue reading