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Flying high with open source

"It's always peak hour somewhere" on the Sabre Holdings network, but open source software helps the company meet its demanding uptime requirements

By Paul Desmond, Network World
November 10, 2008 12:01 AM ET

Network World - To say Sabre Holdings is a believer in open source technology is an understatement. Its IT department supports the Travelocity Web site, the Sabre Travel Network and Sabre Airline Solutions, and the company has been using open source tools for some 10 years, according to CTO Robert Wiseman. Cost certainly factors into the reason, but it's Sabre's ability to control its own destiny by making whatever changes it deems necessary that's the real motivation. Along with Kevin Bomar, Sabre's senior principal of middleware services, Wiseman explains how open source software and the community that supports it help Sabre deliver solutions that meet its demanding uptime requirements.

Can you give me a sense of the scale of your operation?
Robert Wiseman:
We have about 5,000 servers across the world, probably two-thirds running open source. Close to 100% of our requests go through a server using open source technology at some point, primarily Linux.

Do you use other, non-open source operating systems?
RW:
We've standardized on Red Hat Linux, but our mainframe runs a mainframe operating system, and we have some legacy Unix systems running various proprietary operating systems, but we're starting to phase those out as we move to a standard Linux environment.

What other open source technologies do you employ?
RW:
We use a lot of them, from Apache and Tomcat [Web servers] to open source ESBs [enterprise service bus], test tools, open source databases, Terracotta for caching, and so on.

What are the key benefits?
RW:
Certainly cost is an attractive aspect, which is probably one of the first reasons that everyone starts to look at open source. Another is the ability to have access to the code, to have control of your own destiny. At Sabre we're a 24/7 environment, and we run 32,000 transactions per second across our systems at peak. We can never afford to be down because we support airlines and travel agencies across the world and, as we say internally, it's always peak hour somewhere. If we run into problems -- which thankfully is very rare -- we have the ability to go in and take a look at the code ourselves and make fixes if necessary. With a commercial, off-the-shelf solution, you're pretty much dead in the water. You have to fall back [to a previous revision], if that's even feasible, or wait for a vendor release.

Kevin Bomar: In some cases, support is also a benefit. A lot of times, the support you can get for open source products -- the developer help and so on -- is better than you get for commercial, off-the-shelf software.

How important was access to that developer community in your decision to use open source tools?
RW:
Very important. Vendors are traditionally very responsive; it's one of the things we pay them for. But it's also good to have a community that can help you address things that maybe even some of the vendors haven't seen.

KB: It's important to see how current, large and active the community is. If you're considering a certain open source solution and it hasn't had an update in a year, that probably means the community is not very active and you should probably reconsider.

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