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HB ON THE SCENE: HTNG Shows Hotel Companies Way To Future Is In The ‘Clouds.’

Tuesday March 2nd, 2010 - 6:10PM

ORLANDO—The hotel technology leaders over at Hotel Technology Next Generation (HTNG), which held its annual North American Members’ Meeting today here at the Hilton located in the Walt Disney World Resort, now have their heads stuck firmly in the clouds when it comes to the future of hospitality technology infrastructure and systems.

Indeed, that is because the concept of “cloud computing”—through which hotel system applications and much of their supporting infrastructure would all ideally be purely Internet-based rather than server and data center-based—was presented today as the logical, efficient and economical direction all hotels and hotel companies should be heading.
This new overriding path for hotel technology was demonstrated during two different sessions today featuring enterprising technology executives at two major hotel companies. The first to go was Bill Peer, the vp of enterprise architecture for InterContinental Hotels Group, who explained that IHG’s roadmap is purely focused on cloud computing and the related server and application virtualization, meaning technology vendors that want to partner with the company moving forward need to get on board the same cloud computing movement and display the capability of operating in such an intangible environment.
“We are minimizing our physical technology footprint in the hotel space. No single point of failure and minimizing the hardware footprint are our requirements.” Peer said. “We’re running in the clouds, up and off the property. Every technology we’re building is cloud capable. We have our own private cloud now and we can transfer to a public cloud when ready.”
As an example of cloud computing’s benefits for IHG, Peer said it would normally take a significant amount of time to establish a new call center in, for instance, Romania previously. With cloud computing it would only take two weeks, predominantly for agent training.
Peer added cloud computing will also allow IHG to “sunset” its Holidex Plus central reservations system because it will be able to replatform it as a cloudable technology that’s virtualized. “We’ll be able to thin out various hotel systems as well and run them in the cloud,” he said. “So as a vendor, for us you need to be deployable anywhere and run in the cloud environment.”
Later on during today’s HTNG events, Nick Price, chief information officer and chief technology officer for Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, truly hammered home the need for cloud computing across the hotel industry by opening the doors to what Mandarin has been up to in the realm of the cloud.
“A hotel is not a simple environment. It has lots of front- and back-of-the-house applications, significant technology infrastructure, guest facing systems plus all of their related interfaces,” Price explained. “In 2005, for example, the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong had two lanes of server racks inside the hotel alone. In 2009, it needed even more of them even though technically the server architecture shrank to blade servers. However, there were more applications like [Internet protocol television], etc.”
Price added that such prodigious data centers plus the constant need for Mandarin’s technology departments to conduct “patch management” to keep its systems up to date created a “major business problem,” and one that’s no doubt shared by most hotel companies. As a result, Mandarin began testing through two projects the concept of server virtualization in a long-term attempt to progress to application virtualization, then a private cloud environment and then, finally, a public cloud.
“Our testing has shown that for one Mandarin Oriental hotel we now only require one and a half server racks, whereas before we required 10, but there is no loss of performance,” Price said. “So we used to spend about $200,000 on hardware for one hotel. We save $80,000 with server virtualization. But factoring in increasing energy costs and all of the soft benefits, including remote management, we can save about $400,000 over a five-year period using server virtualization for one Mandarin Oriental hotel. So why hasn’t the hotel industry embraced this technology? It’s been around for five years and has been proven successful in other industries. Virtualization has been so successful in our two projects that I’m convinced we should fully virtualize our hotels. And we will with those hotels that are opening by 2011.”