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Travel giant sails into Web services age

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After 30 years of running closed, proprietary systems as the pre-eminent provider of data to the travel industry, Galileo International said on Monday it has gone live with its first external Web service.

The company says AAA, North America's largest motoring and leisure travel organization and Galileo's largest customer, is now using a Galileo itinerary Web service to provide airline flight and fare information to users of its Web site.

Galileo has spent the past two years developing and testing Web services and XML as a way to open up its proprietary systems and provide more flexible access to its wealth of data for a larger number of companies, especially smaller travel agents. (see case study).

With the Web service used by AAA, itinerary data such as time of travel and destination is entered in one spot on the AAA site, and the Web service coordinates as many as six separate queries for data on Galileo's global distribution system (GDS). The GDS runs on a mainframe, and is updated constantly with fare and reservation information from 500 airlines, 227 hotel operators, 32 car rental agencies, 368 tour operators and all the major cruise lines.

The itinerary information is aggregated into a single XML document and returned to the AAA Web site. Galileo also plans to offer a booking Web service, which would convert the itinerary information into a booking.

The booking Web service would aggregate as many as a dozen transactions into a single Web service that AAA customers can activate with a single click from the Web site. Other Web services will follow for viewing trip information and flight status.

"AAA's Web site used Galileo services previously but with some limitations," says Gereon Fredrickson, senior director of technology products for Galileo. "They were restricted in the type of data they could use and they had to make individual calls and aggregate the logic on their own Web site. We have reduced that time it takes for them to enhance their Web site from months to weeks."

Everything AAA needs is now contained in a single Web service, which cuts development time for AAA, since AAA does not have to know the proprietary interfaces needed to access Galileo's GDS.

In addition, AAA no longer needs to maintain a special Windows-based server to interact with a data language Galileo developed three years ago called XML Select, a standard way to describe such concepts as a car or hotel. XML Select converted Common Object Model (COM) components used in client-side applications into XML documents. Those documents were fed to adapters in Galileo's network that converted the XML into triggers that would touch off transactions on the mainframe.

To compensate for the immaturity of native Web services security protocols, Galileo is using firewalls and Secure Socket Layer encryption to secure its Web services traffic. The company also has developed a gateway to handle authentication and authorization of users.

It has not been a trivial task for Galileo to open its systems with Web services. It handles 350 million requests for information per day, 92 billion transactions per year and boasts an uptime of 99.95%. Last year more than 345 million travel reservations were booked through Galileo's systems from more than 178,000 terminals in 115 countries, which generated an estimated $55 billion in travel-related services.

"We think this will become the predominant way to share data and not just in the travel industry," says Galileo's Fredrickson. "Smaller travel agents couldn't afford to hook up to our GDS. Now, it is more cost effective."

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