From private to public: Amadeus on working with Microsoft to change up its cloud strategy

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Amadeus’ technology is pervasive throughout the travel industry, with everyone from airlines to hoteliers and car rental firms relying on its platform to help customers make bookings and ensure they enjoy a stress-free travel experience.

In the 30 or so years that Amadeus has been operating, the infrastructure underpinning its offerings has undergone a series of modernisations, which in the past have seen it move to decommission its mainframes and embrace open systems.

The company has also become renowned for operating one of Europe’s largest private cloud deployments, and is now in the middle of a multi-year migration of its technology platform to the public cloud.

In February 2021, Amadeus named Microsoft as its preferred cloud partner, and set out details of how their partnership would accelerate the firm’s public cloud migration, which it claims in on course for completion in three to five years.

There is also scope within the partnership for the two firms to collaborate and bring to market jointly developed, cloud-based products and services that will enable “seamless travel experiences”, with particular emphasis initially on enabling closer collaboration between travel and health authorities.

“Amadeus’ strength is build on our people and our history of pushing the boundaries of travel technology, providing our customers with better and ever more innovative ways to achieve their goals,” says Luis Maroto, CEO and president at Amadeus.

“From our long continued experience with cloud technology, we are convinced it is the right systems architecture to deliver on this continued commitment, and that Microsoft is the right partner to help us achieve our goals together. This includes the opportunity to explore, design and develop new solutions that take full advantage of cloud technology.”

Even so, Amadeus’ pivot to the public cloud may have taken some industry-watchers by surprise, given that the firm has vocally championed the open source, private cloud as the type of IT environment in which it prefers to run its applications and workloads.

Shift in cloud strategy

Maroto spoke about this apparent shift in cloud strategy on a conference call with analysts on 27 February 2021, transcribed by Seeking Alpha, where he also confirmed that the deal with Microsoft would not preclude it from working with other cloud providers in future.

“We have always been assessing our options between private cloud and public cloud, and It is clear the big players in the public cloud space has evolved a lot in the last years,” he says.

“The fact that we will work with Microsoft as the main partner doesn’t mean that we will be locked in with Microsoft for the future. It’s not exclusive, and it doesn’t mean we need to run everything that we do with Microsoft.”

To reinforce this point, Maroto says the company will carry on working with other players in the public cloud, while drawing on Microsoft’s expansive technology portfolio to roll out new products of its own, and generate cost savings that can be reinvested in its business.

“It is our intention to leverage their technology and work with them much more closely in terms of moving to the cloud, leveraging the technology that they have that can optimise our way of working, but also using our partnership with them to really try to analyse how we can combine efforts with their capabilities, their tools and our capabilities and our tools to bring to the market new ideas,” he adds.

Pivoting from private to public cloud

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Denis Lacroix, senior vice-president of core shared services research and development at Amadeus, expands further on the company’s decision to accelerate its all-in push into the public cloud with Microsoft.

Currently, about 90% of the firm’s workloads are hosted within its primary datacentre in Germany, he says, but there is also some data housed within its smaller datacentres in the US and Singapore. The rest of its workloads are running in public clouds “like Microsoft Azure”, he adds.

As referenced by Maroto, Lacroix similarly acknowledges that a large-scale move to the public cloud is not something that would have been on Amadeus’ technology roadmap when it first started experimenting with cloud technologies back in 2015.

“At the time, our idea was that we would both deploy some workloads on the public cloud, and also transform our datacentres to cloud-enable them,” he says.

“We would never have made as big a commitment to go to the public cloud back in 2015. We were not ready, our customers were not ready to listen to us about moving to the cloud, and it just was not the right time to go big into it.”

But that was then, and this is now, and a lot has changed in the intervening years for Amadeus that has softened the company’s attitude towards using public cloud. Not least were the ever-changing data protection regulations that many of the travel firms Amadeus works with are duty-bound to abide by.

“There are new regulations popping up left and right [for our clients] where we have customers that now demand, or are about to start demanding, that we host some of their data in their geography of choice or in the country they operate in,” says Lacroix.

“It became clear to us that the cloud should be the strategic direction for our business to take in the years to come”

Denis Lacroix, Amadeus

“That’s threatening our historical operating model where we are today serving our customers from a single country, Germany, and our operating model was really cracking at the seams.”

The firm also found itself coming up against misconceptions, particularly from some of its larger customers in the US, about its ability to deliver a globally accessible service from its site in Germany.

“There is no good reason, technical or otherwise, why we couldn’t serve those clients from Germany, but they have difficulty in agreeing with that [as they are based in the US]… and we don’t want to enter into those kinds of difficult commercial discussions,” says Lacroix.  

“So it became clear to us that the cloud, now being capable of actually hosting the kind of product and services we have, should be the strategic direction for our business to take in the years to come.”

Amadeus’ cloud partnership with Microsoft means its clients now have the opportunity to access its technology platform from the 60 or so countries in the world where Azure has datacentre coverage.  

An alternative strategy would have involved Amadeus embarking on a series of datacentre build-outs of its own across the globe to meet the commercial and regulatory demands of its clients for locally hosted access to its platforms, says Lacroix. “I mean nobody would do this. Not now. Not any more.”

Despite the debilitating impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on large parts of the travel industry as governments across the world have issued stay-at-home orders, Lacroix says the global health emergency has had little bearing on Amadeus’ cloud plans.

“In the middle of the pandemic, in the spring of last year, we came to the conclusion that now is the time to actually go big on public cloud, but that decision was not related at all to the pandemic,” he says. “It would have happened with or without the pandemic, and it did not accelerate our decision- making in any shape or form.”

Carlo Purassanta, president of Microsoft France, backs this point and tells Computer Weekly that the prosect of a technology tie-up between the firms was first discussed about two years ago, and was forged out of a realisation that both companies had similar views on what the future holds for IT innovation.

“We discussed at the time the fact that more and more industry innovation will come with a platform-to-platform approach,” says Purassanta.

“And the beauty of Amadeus is that this company is a platform already and has been a platform for ever, so the DNA of Amadeus is to be a platform for others to build innovation upon. So that’s where we started the discussion and then everything accelerated a year ago for a strategic decision [to be forged].”

The decision to accelerate its move to the public cloud with Microsoft, rather than Google Cloud or Amazon Web Services (AWS), was also influenced by other factors, such as the similarities between the companies and their culture, says Lacroix.

“Microsoft is a business-to-business company predominantly, and we are B2B as well because we don’t sell to consumers, and so we – more or less – do business the same way, and it is a good cultural fit from a corporate culture standpoint,” he says.

Good working relationship

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Amadeus chief Maroto also have a good working relationship with each other, says Lacroix, which is important considering the amount of work that lies ahead for both firms.

“It is very important to have that relationship [between the CEOs] because I’m sure it’s not going to be a bed of roses,” he adds. “We’re going have some challenges, but the fact that we established trust with the two companies, all the way up to the CEO, is essential.

“Obviously, we’re not going to call the Microsoft CEO in case of a minor issue, but the fact that our CEO can speak to Microsoft’s CEO and they know each other is very important. This [move to the Microsoft cloud] is a long-term thing. It’s not just something we’re focusing on for the next 12 months.”

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