Southwest Airlines Ramps Up Quickly with Virtualization and IT as a Service
Southwest Airlines Ramps Up Quickly with Virtualization andIT as a ServiceTranscript of a BrieﬁngsDirect podcast on how travel giant Southwest Airlines is using VMwareproducts to streamline customer service applications.Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Sponsor: VMwareDana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to a special BrieﬁngsDirect podcast series coming to youfrom the VMworld 2011 Conference in Las Vegas. Were here in the week of August 29 to explore the latest in cloud computing and virtualization infrastructure developments. Im Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and I’ll be your host throughout this series of VMware-sponsored BrieﬁngsDirect discussions. [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BrieﬁngsDirect podcasts.] Here at VMworld, as part of the main keynote address, one company and its innovative approach to IT has been spotlighted. Southwest Airlines, one of thebest-run companies anywhere, with some 35 straight years of proﬁtability, told its story of howIT has been transformative and how IT as a service has really worked for them.Here to tell us more about how Southwest is innovating and adapting with IT as a compellingstrategic differentiator is Bob Young, Vice President of Technology and Chief TechnologyOfﬁcer at Southwest Airlines.Welcome to BrieﬁngsDirect, Bob.Bob Young: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you today.Gardner: We heard a lot about IT as a service, and unfortunately, a lot of companies face an ITorganization that might be perceived as a little less than service oriented, maybe even for some aroadblock or a hurdle. How do you think you at Southwest have been able to make IT and keepIT squarely in the role of enablement?Young: First off, as everybody should know already, Southwest Air is the customer servicechamp in the industry. Taking excellent care of our customers is just as important as ﬁlling our planes with fuel. It’s really what makes us go. So as we are taking a look and trying to be what travelers want in an airline, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve Southwest Airlines and make it better for our customers, thats really where virtualization and IT as a service comes into play. What we want to be able to do is make IT not say, "Oh, this is IT versus something else."
People want to be able to get on Southwest.com, make a reservation, log on to their RapidRewards or our Loyalty Program, and they want to be able to do it when they want to do it, whenthey need to do it, from wherever they are. And it’s just great to be able to provide that service.We provide that to them at any point in time that they want in a reliable manner. And thats reallywhat it gets right down to -- to make the functions and the solutions that we provide ubiquitousso people don’t really need to think about anything other than, "I need to do this and I can do itnow."At your ﬁngertipsGardner: I travel quite a bit and it seems to me that things have changed a lot in the last fewyears. One of the nice things is that information seems to be at your ﬁngertips more than ever. I never seem to be out of the loop now as a traveler. I can ﬁnd out changes probably as quickly as the folks at the gate. So how has this transfer of information been possible? How have you been able to keep up with the demands and the expectations ofthe travelers?Young: One of the things that we like to do at Southwest Airlines is listen to our customers,listen to what their wants and desires are, and be ﬂexible enough to be able to provide thosesolutions.If we talk about information and the ﬂow of information through applications and services, itreally starts to segment the core technical aspects of that so the customer and our employeesdon’t really need to think about it. When they want to get the ﬂight at the gates, the passenger ison a ﬂight leg, etc., they can go ahead and get that at any moment in time.Another good example of that is earlier this year we rolled out our new Rapid Rewards 2.0rogram. It represents a bold and leading way to look at rewards and giving customers what theywant. With this program, weve been able to make it such that we can make any seat available onany ﬂight for our Rapid Rewards customers for rewards booking, which is unique in the industry.The other thing it does is allows our current and potential members the ﬂexibility in how theyboth earn miles and points and how they use them for rewards -- being able to plan ahead andallowing them to save some signiﬁcant points.The same is true of how we provide IT as a service. What we want to be able to do is provide itwhenever they want it, whenever they need it, at the right cost point, and to meet their needs.Weve got some of the best customers in the world and they like to do things for themselves. Wewant to allow them to do that for themselves and be able to provide our employees the sameareas.
If youve been on a Southwest ﬂight, youve seen our ﬂight crews, our in-ﬂight team, really tryingto have fun and trying to make Southwest a fun place to work and to be, and we just want tocontinue to support that in a number of different ways.Gardner: You have also had some very signiﬁcant challenges. Youre growing rapidly. YourSouthwest.com website is a crucial and growing part of your revenue stream. Youve hadmergers, acquisitions, and integrations as a result of that, and as we just discussed, theexpectations of your consumers, your customers, are ramping up as well -- more data, moremobile devices, more ways to intercept the business processes that support your overall productsand services.So with all those requirements, tell me a little bit about the how. How in IT have you been able tocreate common infrastructures, reduce redundancy, and then yet still ramp up to meet thesechallenging requirements?Signiﬁcant volumeYoung: As you all know, Southwest.com is a very large travel site, one of the largest in theindustry -- not just airlines, but the travel industry as a whole. Over 80 percent of our customersand consumers book travel directly on Southwest.com. As you may know, we have fare sales acouple of times a year, and that can drive a signiﬁcant volume.What weve been able to do and how we have been able to meet some of those challenges isthrough a number of different VMware products. One of the core products is VMware itself, ifwe talk about vSphere, vMotion, etc., to be able to provide that virtualization. You can get a 1-to-10 virtualization depending on which type of servers and blades youre using, which helps uson the infrastructure side of the house to maintain that and have the storage, physical, andelectrical capacity in our data centers.But it also allows us, as were moving, consolidating, and expanding these different data centers,to be able to move that virtual machine (VM) seamlessly between points. Then, it doesn’t matterwhere it’s running.That allows us the capacity. So if we have a fare sale and I need to add capacity on some of ourservices, it gives our us and our team that run the infrastructure the ability to bring up newservices on new VMs seamlessly. It plugs right into how were doing things, so that internalcloud allows us not to experience blips.Its been a great add for us from a capacity management perspective and being able to get theright capacity, with the right applications, at the right time. It allows us to manage that in such away that it’s transparent to our end-users so they don’t notice any of this is going on in thebackground, and the experience is not different.Gardner: I understand that youre at a fairly high level of virtualization. Is that a place whereyou plan to stay? Are you going to pursue higher levels? Where do you expect to go with that?
Young: Ill give you a little bit of background. We started our virtualized environments about 18months ago. We went from a very small amount of virtualization to what we coined our Server2.0 strategy, which was really the combination of commodity-based hardware blades withVMware on that.And that allowed us last year in the ﬁrst and second quarter to grow from several hundred VMsto over several thousand, which is where were at today in the production environment. If youtalk about production, development, and test, production is just one of those environments.It has allowed us to scale that very rapidly without having to add a thousand physical servers.And it has been a tremendous beneﬁt for us in managing our power, space, and cooling in thedata center, along with allowing our engineers who are doing the day-to-day work to have asingle way to manage it, deploy, and move stuff around even more automatically. They don’thave to mess with that anymore, VMware just takes care of the different products that are part ofthe VMware Suite.Gardner: And your conﬁdence, has it risen to the level where youre looking at 70, 80, 90, evenmore percent of virtualization? How do you expect to end that journey?Ready for the evolutionYoung: I would love to be at 100 percent virtualized. That would be fantastic. I thinkunfortunately we still have some manufacturers and software vendors -- and we call themvendors, because typically we don’t say partners -- who decide they are not going to support theirsoftware running in the virtualized environment. That can create problems, especially when youneed to keep some of those systems up 24x7, 365, with three nines and a ﬁve availability.Were hoping that changes, but the goal would be to move as much as we can, because if I take alook at virtualization, we are kind of our internal private cloud. What that’s really doing isgetting us ready for the evolution that’s going to happen over the next, 5, 7, or 10 years, whereyou may have applications and data deployed out in a cloud, a virtual private cloud, public cloudif the security becomes good enough, where youve got to bring all that stuff together.If you need to have huge amounts of capacity and two applications are not collocated that needto talk back and forth, youve got to be much more efﬁcient on the calls and the communicationsand make that seamless for the customer.This is giving us the platform to start learning more and start developing those solutions thatdon’t need to be collocated in a data center or in one or two data centers, but can really be pushedwherever it makes sense. That could be from wherever the most efﬁcient data center is from agreen technology perspective, use the least electricity and cooling power, to alternate energy, towhat makes sense at the time of the year.
That is a huge add and a huge win for us in the IT community to be able to start utilizing some ofthat virtualization and even across physical locations.Gardner: So as youve ramped up on your virtualization, I imagine you have been able to enjoysome beneﬁts from that in terms of capital expense, hardware, and energy. How about in some ofthe areas around conﬁguration management and policy management. Is there a centralizationfeature to this that also is paying dividends?Young: That’s a huge cornerstone of the suite of tools that weve been able to get throughVMware is being able to deploy custom solutions and even some of the off-the-shelf solutions ona standard platform, standard operating systems, standard conﬁgurations, standard containers forthe web, etc. It allows us to deploy that stuff within minutes, whereas it used to take engineersmanually going to conﬁgure each thing separately. That’s been a huge savings for that.The other thing is, once you get the conﬁguration right and you have it automated, you don’thave to worry about people taking some human missteps. Those are going to happen, and youvegot to go back and redo something. That elimination of error and the speed at which we can dothat is helping. As you expand your server footprints and the number of VMs and servers youhave without having to add to your staff, you can actually do more with the same number of orfewer staff.Gardner: I wonder how you feel about desktop virtualization. Another feature that weve seen inthe ﬁeld in the marketplace is those that make good use of server virtualization are in a betterposition to then take that a step further and extend it out through PC-over-IP and otherapproaches to delivering the whole desktop experience. Is that something that youre involvedwith or experimenting with? How do you feel about that?Young: This has been going on and off in the IT industry for the past 10-15 years, if you talkabout Net PCs and some of the other things. What’s really driven us to take a look at it is thataround our environment we can control security on virtual desktops, etc., very clearly, veryquickly and deliver that in a great service.New mobile devicesThe other thing that’s leading to this is, not just what we talked about in security, is the plethoraof brand new mobile devices -- iPhones, iPads, Android devices, Galaxy. HP has a new device.RIM has a new device. We need to be able to deliver our services in a more ubiquitous manner.The virtual desktop allows us to go ahead and deliver some of those where I don’t need tocontrol the hardware. I just control the interface, which can protect our systems virtually, and it’sreally pretty neat.I was on one of my devices the other day and was able to go in via virtual desktop that was set upto be able to use some of the core systems without having all that stuff loaded on my machine,and that was via the Internet. So it worked out phenomenally well.
Now, there are some issues that you have to do depending on whether youre doing collocationand facility, but you can easily get through some of that with the right virtualization setup andnetworking.Gardner: So you have come an awfully long way. You say 18 months ago you were onlyembarking on virtualization, but now youre already talking about hybrid clouds and mobileenablement and wide area network optimization. How is that you have been able to bite off somuch so soon? A lot of people would be intimidated, do more of that crawl-walk-run, with theemphasis on the crawl and walk parts?Young: Well, I am very fortunate. I might come up with the vision of where we want to go andthis is where IT is going, and I am very fortunate to have some very good and phenomenalengineers working on this, working through it, all the issues, all the little challenges that pop upalong the way in order to do this.It’s what our team would say is pretty cool technology, and it gets them excited about doingsomething new and different as well. Ive got a couple of managers -- Tim Pilson, Mitch Mitchell-- and their teams, and some really good people, who actually are here at VMworld.Jason Norman is one of the people, and Doug Rowland also has been very involved with gettingthis rolled out. It’s amazing what a core set of just a few people can do with the right technology,the right attitude, and passion to get it done. Ive just been very impressed with their, what wecall warrior spirit here at Southwest Airlines -- just not giving up, doing what it takes to get itdone, and being able to utilize that with some of the VMware products.It extends beyond that team. Our development teams use Spring and some other of the VMwareproducts as well. If we run into an issue, it’s just like VMware on the development side of thehouse and product side of the house is really part of our extended team. They take it, they listen,and they come back with a ﬁx and a patch in literally a day or two, rather than some othervendors with whom you might wait weeks or months and it might never make it to you.So I really have got to give credit to the teams that are working with me, my team who gets itdone, and VMware for providing such a great product that the engineers want to use it, can use it,and can understand it, and make huge amounts of progress in a very short period of time.Gardner: Well, great. I really enjoyed your presentation on the stage. It’s a very interesting andcompelling story. Weve been talking with Southwest Airlines and how they are continuing toinnovate and adapt and using IT as a compelling strategic differentiator.Our guest has been Bob Young, Vice President of Technology and Chief Technology Ofﬁcer atSouthwest Airlines. Thanks so much, Bob.Young: Well, thank you and I hope everybody has a great time here at VMworld.Gardner: And thanks too to our audience for joining this special podcast that’s coming to youfrom the 2011 VMworld Conference in Las Vegas.
Im Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host throughout this series ofVMware-sponsored BrieﬁngsDirect discussions. Thanks again for listening, and come back nexttime.Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod. Sponsor: VMwareTranscript of a BrieﬁngsDirect podcast on how travel giant Southwest Airlines is using VMwareproducts to streamline customer service applications. Copyright Interarbor Solutions, LLC,2005-2011. All rights reserved.You may also be interested in: • From VMworld, Cosmetics Giant Revlon Harnesses the Power of Private Cloud to Produce Impressive Savings and Cost Avoidance • From VMworld, NYSE Euronext on Hybrid Cloud Vision and Strategy Behind the Capital Markets Community Platform Vertical Cloud • VMwares vSphere 5 Hits the Streets • VMware Launches a Developer Edition for Cloud Service • Priming the Private Cloud Pump, HP Releases VirtualSystem for VMware at VMworld