Real World Windows Azure: HRG Extends Application to Mobile Devices, Cuts Startup Costs by 80 Percent

As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we connected with Paul Saggar, Director of Technology and Product Development of Hogg Robinson Group (HRG) to learn more about how it extends its core trave platform application to mobile devices on Windows Azure, while cutting 80 percent in start-up costs and increasing productivity by 25 percent. Read on to find out what he had to say.

Himanshu Kumar Singh: Tell me about Hogg Robinson.

Paul Saggar: HRG, located in the United Kingdom, provides corporate travel booking services to customers worldwide. HRG connects with dozens of third-party suppliers through its platform to offer customers high-quality, cost-effective travel services with the best value pricing for airfares, hotel rooms, train tickets, and other travel requirements.

HKS: How does HRG deliver its services?

PS: To deliver services, HRG integrates systems and data from third-party suppliers, customer business systems, and in-house software, using Microsoft BizTalk Server 2010 Enterprise. The software creates a connection layer between the web, mobile, and desktop applications that comprise its core platform. Customer data is always protected behind either the company or customer firewalls.

HKS: What influenced HRG’s decision to add mobile capabilities?

PS: HRG wanted to develop a mobile version of its solution, because most customers need to access booking services on their mobile device while they’re travelling. There were a few initial challenges we had to address in order to deliver our services on mobile devices: scalability, performance and security.

HKS: How is HRG utilizing Windows Azure?

PS: My team and I created the HRG i_Suite mobile application incorporating a mobile gateway based on Windows Azure. The gateway uses Cloud Services, Service Bus, and SQL Database to create a hybrid solution comprising cloud and on-premises services. Some functionality is delivered directly from the cloud, while a reliable and secure message and relay infrastructure connects information from the on-premises booking platform to Cloud Services.

HKS: How do you store customers’ personal information, and manage transactional data?

PS: No personally identifiable information is stored on the device. Service Bus is a managed service that supports multiple messaging protocols and patterns. With Service Bus, we route messages containing personally identifiable information to BizTalk Server and Microsoft .NET–based on-premises services. In this way, information is protected in line with our customers’ security protocols. Tables are used to maintain active and authenticated user information permitting a fast, secure mechanism for connecting to the HRG on-premises services.

The highly available and scalable SQL Database has built-in fault tolerance and manages transactional data that forms part of the booking process. Data that is accessed frequently on the HRG i-Suite mobile application, such as airport locations, is also stored on SQL Database. With Cloud Services, servers are automatically provisioned to support the appropriate messaging model and best performance for the location of device and type of transaction.

HKS: What are some of the development benefits you’ve seen with Windows Azure?

PS: By incorporating the cloud platform into our hybrid solution, the HRG team has increased productivity by about 25 percent for projects that use or are hosted on Windows Azure, and we’re already starting on phase two of our mobile strategy. This is testimony to how quickly we can develop and extend services with the cloud platform.

HKS: Have you customers benefited from your use of Windows Azure?

PS: Absolutely. This was imperative in our decision to go with Windows Azure. Our customers usually access services while travelling, and the mobile solution offers them convenience and security without compromising performance. By using Windows Azure, services are provisioned as close to the user’s device as possible, making transactions fast, seamless and secure. We also provide customers with a choice of booking travel by phone, on the web, or by using their mobile devices. Although HRG’s travel booking services require complex technology configurations between in-house and third-party applications, our team can now create new services quickly.

HKS: And what are the benefits to HRG?

PS: HRG’s CAPEX is considerably lower than if we had to purchase and provision our own physical servers and then connect many on and off-premises applications. With Windows Azure, we’ve spent around 20 percent of the budget we’d usually dedicate to developing and piloting a new solution. There’s also less financial risk for us because we don’t have to predict what servers and licenses we need to buy, but we can scale up easily if we need to.

Read the full HRG case study here. Check out other customer stories here.