Paxport: Delivering first-class service with Google Cloud Platform

About Paxport

Capitalizing on the increasing demand for travel-enhancing services and the growing ecommerce market, Paxport helps airlines and travel resellers grow their extra revenues by providing a better travel experience for their passengers.

Industries: Travel & Hospitality
Location: United Kingdom

Paxport used Compute Engine virtual machines to build a resource-efficient, resilient infrastructure that handles record-breaking traffic while cutting server costs and improving performance.

Google Cloud Results

  • Starts up and shuts down Compute Engine VMs on demand, paying only for what it uses
  • Improves agility with two scheduled releases a day, up from one a week
  • Frees IT staff from server maintenance to work on research and development for strategic gains

Regularly handles over 60 million transactions daily

For companies in the travel and leisure industry today, good service is about more than just booking flights. Airlines, travel agencies, and hotels understand that ancillary services — such as car hire, transport, event tickets, or even extra services on the flight — are an increasingly important revenue stream and customers expect a more personalized experience. With traditional distribution and sales processes unable to keep up with demand and deliver in the way travelers expect, travel companies have been forced to look for new ways to stay agile.

"We had a number of data centers to cope with peak demand before the big holidays. Outside the peak period, we had lots of boxes that just sat there generating heat but not doing anything. With Google Cloud, we saw the opportunity to scale on demand and only pay for what we used."

Chris Nourse, CTO, Paxport

Paxport offers travel companies plug and play solutions to provide these ancillary services and the tools to display them in the right channels and at the right time. After launching in 1994, Paxport now serves over 80 airlines and more than 250 resellers across the United Kingdom and continental Europe. In 2016, however, when Paxport's on-premises infrastructure showed signs of strain, it turned to Google Cloud Platform (GCP) for its new solution.

"We had a number of data centers to cope with peak demand before the big holidays. Outside the peak period, we had lots of boxes that just sat there generating heat but not doing anything," says Chris Nourse, CTO at Paxport. "With Google Cloud, we saw the opportunity to scale on demand and only pay for what we used, so we were able to focus on our core business rather than maintaining lots of servers. It is what we advise our customers to do!"

Stability and scalability with Compute Engine

Paxport's success with its customers lies in its ability to deliver results quickly and with minimal fuss. "We provide an end-to-end service, fully integrated with our client's platform," says Chris. "We work with top brands but we sit deep in their platforms so the vast majority of their customers will not have heard of us." The company caters to the United Kingdom, European, and Nordic travel markets across four separate business lines. While this means that it can offer a wide variety of services to a large market, it resulted in a large and complex IT system.

In late 2016, the company began examining ways to overhaul its infrastructure. The travel industry is highly cyclical, with peaks in the first few months of the year as people look ahead to booking their summer holidays. To cope with such demand, which can run up to over 60 million transactions per day, Paxport provisioned servers in a number of data centers. Outside the peak times, however, as demand goes down, with an on-premises solution, the servers keep running. The company decided to look for a cloud-based solution that could scale up to meet the demand of peak season, but also scale back down as demand fell, reducing costs.

"The main highlight of Google Compute Engine for me was its stability, but the whole thing has been an improvement. The VMs are faster than our old servers, the bandwidth is larger, the load balancers are more capable. Everything is on a much bigger, more industrial scale."

Chris Nourse, CTO, Paxport

After testing several cloud services, Paxport went with GCP, largely due to the enthusiasm and engagement of Google Cloud engineers. "Their expertise was streets ahead of the competition," says Chris. In early 2017, Paxport began migrating to GCP in stages. The first service to migrate was the PaxPay service, which served as a proof of concept for the larger migrations that would occur later.

Rather than completely rewriting and refactoring its legacy code base for the cloud, Paxport decided to minimize the risk of an outage with a lift-and-shift approach using Compute Engine VMs as the core of the new infrastructure. While the code base stayed intact, the company dedicated time to rewriting its complex databases in PostGreSQL to ease integration with other GCP tools. After this was done, Paxport could use Cloud SQL to quickly query data and create reports.

After the successful migration of PaxPay, the company migrated the rest of its services over to GCP component by component, maintaining a full complement of servers in data centers as a backup. By early December of 2017, the company was ready to shut down its servers and switch its entire service to GCP. The process took just minutes, with no disruption to clients. Within weeks, the new infrastructure would face the onslaught of the peak January to March period, but Paxport was confident.

"The main highlight of Google Compute Engine for me was its stability, but the whole thing has been an improvement," he says. "The VMs are faster than our old servers, the bandwidth is larger, and the load balancers are more capable. Everything is on a much bigger, more industrial scale."

Unlocking the full potential of the business

With its GCP infrastructure in place, Paxport easily met the challenge of the 2018 peak season. A major customer told Chris in that period there were "never any concerns about Paxport because the systems were so solid". Not only were there no outages or scaling issues, Paxport also had a record-breaking run. A key performance metric, explains Chris, is how often the system handles more than 60 million transactions per day. With the old infrastructure, this happened "around 10 percent of the time". After migrating to GCP, Paxport surpassed the 60 million transaction marker "between 60 and 70 percent of the time", according to Chris. "It made us think that perhaps we had a glass ceiling with the old infrastructure that we just weren't aware of."

"We don't have to worry about the network, switches, or firewalls anymore. The management of the infrastructure is taken over by Google Cloud. If we need capacity, we can spin it up easily and shut it down when we don't need it anymore."

Chris Nourse, CTO, Paxport

As well as stability and proven scalability, GCP enabled Paxport to automate and increase the frequency of its updates, from once a week to up to twice a day. A release schedule like this means that the company can respond and adapt to changing events or bugs much more quickly than before and achieve a new level of agility. "The investment in code and the time to write something and release it is much, much shorter now," explains Chris. "The cost of work in progress has reduced dramatically for the business."

Meanwhile, the company no longer spends time or money in data centers maintaining and provisioning servers during peak periods or sinking costs on idle servers at other times.

"We don't have to worry about the network, switches, or firewalls anymore. The management of the infrastructure is taken over by Google Cloud," says Chris. "If we need capacity, we can spin it up easily and shut it down when we don't need it anymore."

New tools, new horizons

Freed from the burdens of server maintenance, Paxport's IT department can put more resources into research and development of new features and strategies. Most recently, it has been looking for new ways to extract insight from its databases.

"The future's very exciting. We're looking at how to leverage Google Cloud data analytics and machine learning tools," says Chris. "When you look at the strategic goals of Paxport and our expansions plans of 30 percent per year, Google Cloud Platform enables us to get there faster."

About Paxport

Capitalizing on the increasing demand for travel-enhancing services and the growing ecommerce market, Paxport helps airlines and travel resellers grow their extra revenues by providing a better travel experience for their passengers.

Industries: Travel & Hospitality
Location: United Kingdom
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