How Microsoft Azure Enables Alaska Airlines to Deliver New e-Commerce Features Faster -Inspiration Series

Alaska Airlines, along with its partners, flies an incredible 44 million customers a year to over 115 destinations. To stay in the game, and keep its fliers happy, the company needed to remain competitive and to do so it needed to ensure it could launch new e-commerce features faster, in minutes rather than days. 

Ultimately when customers receive offers quickly, they are happier, and it results in more revenue. Alaska airline needed to be able to build a scalable, cost-effectively solution that would help them to run their e-commerce sites at optimum performance and cost. Alaska Airlines chose Microsoft Azure and Windows Server COntainers with Docker to give it the agility it needed to delight its customers. 

What Challenges Was Alaska Airlines Facing?

Alaska Airlines flies a huge volume of customers every year, but to do so, it has had to pay attention to every aspect of the customer experience. While it’s, of course, important to ensure inflight comfort and on-time arrivals, it’s equally, if not more important, to deliver the best possible online experience. 

When it comes to e-commerce, competition is rife. It’s commonplace for customers to search with multiple airlines at once to look for the best price and compare the various offerings. For an airline to stand out, it needs to provide a fast, intuitive and seamless shopping experience. And, it’s more than that, customers expect to be wowed, so the online experience needs to deliver neat features that can impress.

The company’s online shopping experience is an immense operation, covering fare searches, ticket purchases and baggage payments. The shopping cart is one of the biggest and most critical software applications, and it needs to deliver an outstanding, uninterrupted service. 

To stay competitive, Alaska airlines is constantly forming new partnerships and creating new services. To make a difference, the company needs to get offers and new online shopping functionality in front of their customers as quickly as possible. To achieve this, the company required rapid software development and rapid code deployment. The airline was making progress, it had reduced the time to get new code into production from a month to week, but it wanted to do even better. 

Why Alaska Airlines Moved to Microservices in the Cloud

The reason that Alaska Airlines couldn’t reduce the code deployment time further was that its site was built on a large monolithic application. To deploy a new feature, the development team had to redeploy the entire site, involving days of quality assurance and testing. The only solution was to replace the complex application with smaller pieces of code that could be changed more rapidly. Specific functions could be separated and rewritten, then deployed independently as loosely coupled services. 

Alaska Airlines chose Azure Consultants Service because most of its codebase was written in Microsoft ASP.NET and because it offered a range of services along with extensive support. The first step was to move the shopping cart application to the cloud. However, with so many services and open source tools available, the move was set to open up ideas for new ways of doing things across the business. 

The Benefits of Using Microsoft Azure

With a need to deliver services faster, Microsoft Azure has provided the perfect solution. The company has managed to speed up deployment drastically with a massive five-day time-saving. With Azure Service Fabric and Windows Server Containers, the company can push out new features immediately. And, Containers powered by Docker allow microservices to be quickly developed in isolated environments. 

By migrating to Azure, Alaska Airlines has realised many benefits:

  • Retain own data centres – Azure Service Fabric code works anywhere, meaning that online services can still be supported by resilient on-premises disaster recovery scenarios. 
  • Faster code deployment – distributing code to the company’s production services takes just eight or nine minutes using Azure Service Fabric, compared to two hours on-premises.
  • Faster scalability – with Azure providing a full-featured data centre, infrastructure doesn’t have to be managed in house. The result is that the company can scale much faster and more effectively, with more time spent focusing on writing quality code. 
  • Avoid overprovisioning costs – the development team no longer has to purchase and hold servers in reserve to deal with seasonal peaks in site traffic.
  • Accelerate build-development cycle – the automation, microservices and containers offered by Microsoft Azure, enable the enormous code base of the company’s site to be segmented into smaller pieces. 
  • Simplified infrastructure – there is no need to coordinate with other teams to set up infrastructure and work out how to maintain it, meaning the team can get things up and running at the touch of a button. 

With Azure, Alaska Airlines can deliver new innovative features to customers faster and create more profit. Moving forward, the company plans for most of its websites application and features to be built in the cloud. 

How Could Azure Help Your business?

If your e-commerce site is built on a monolithic on-premises application, you might be finding that deploying new code and delivering new features to your customers takes longer than you’d like. Microsoft Azure is a leader at putting software and services in the cloud, which means your development team can focus on writing code and creating innovative solutions to your customer’s problems. 

To summarise, here are the challenges, the solution and the benefits that Alaska Airlines experienced:

  • Challenges – Alaska Airlines operates in a highly competitive environment. To retain its customers, it needs to provide a fast, intuitive and seamless shopping experience, with a constant stream of readily-available new features. While the company had managed to reduce its code production time, it needed to take it a step further. However, it was being held back as it was built on a large monolithic application.
  • Solution – The complex application needed to be replaced with smaller pieces of code that could be rapidly and independently changed and deployed. The company chose Microsoft Azure because it was written on ASP.NET and offered a huge range of services along with unrivalled support. 
  • Benefits – By migrating to Azure, the company has reduced its deployment time by five days. The company can develop microservices in isolated environments and push out new features immediately. Azure has enabled faster code deployment, faster scalability and a faster build-development cycle. The result is the ability to focus on writing winning code and delivering innovative features to customers quickly.
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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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