Cloud computing up in the air: elasticity and scalability
If you're taking a plane to go on holidays in Europe or North America in the summer of 2022, prepare for utter chaos.
Aviation is facing an unprecedented crisis due to the post-pandemic staff shortages. Last-minute flight cancellations, lost luggage, or lack of onboard provisions (like food) are happening every single day.
What does cloud computing have to do with aviation?
Airline employees tell it as it is: „Things are not good….. if it’s less than 7 hours – DRIVE! (…) There is nothing enjoyable about flying right now.” One of the biggest European transport hubs, Heathrow Airport, has also asked airlines to temporarily halt their ticket sales this summer, as it struggles to cope with the situation.
After two years of no proper holiday season, it’s surely not what travelers want to hear.
While there’s not much more aviation can miraculously do to hire enough well-paid staff to handle the changing demands, a modern cloud solution simplifying that challenging workload should be considered instead. Particularly because of its two characteristics: elasticity and scalability in processing complex data.
How cloud computing works?
But before diving into how cloud solutions could potentially help air travel, let’s fly through some history, scenarios and definitions first.
How “the cloud” entered computing
Although the first services resembling what it is today appeared in the 1950s already, it wasn’t until the 1990s that internet-based, distributed computer systems with multiple servers started being referred to as “the cloud”.
Things started moving seriously in the cloud sector only in the late 2000s. As more giant companies have embraced digital transformation, it has become an integral part of their IT DNA.
Large corporations and regular third-party cloud providers, like Amazon, IBM, or even NASA, saw cloud computing’s immediate advantages: on-demand availability, agility, migration flexibility, pay-per-use, or broad network access from the beginning. If you use WhatsApp, Google Calendar, Microsoft 365, or Zoom, you already avail of those features in your everyday life.
But because cloud computing combines data storage capacity with the actual calculation power, two other factors are also important for its users.
Up in the cloud(s)
Let’s consider a simplified aviation scenario.
There are 50 pilots working for a holiday-oriented Airline A, which uses Aircraft Type-A. It’s been like that for the last five years since the company has maintained a steady client base.
Suddenly, Company A’s management decides to expand, taking over a small, corporate-focused Airline B with ten pilots operating Aircraft Type-B. The new company (now called Airline AB) aims to certify each pilot to fly Aircraft Type-B. So the 50 pilots originally from Airline A now need to be trained to operate a new plane.
Half a year later, Airline AB decides to make savings, and axes 20% of the positions in the holiday branch of their operations. But the number of flights stays the same. So not only do the 40 remaining pilots originally from Airline A have to redistribute the workload, but they might also have to fly for the corporate arm.
Consequently, Airline AB’s overall performance and reputation suffer, as most of its employees cannot cope with the heightened workload.
The importance of elasticity and scalability in cloud computing
You probably know this made-up story all too well, even if you work in a different industry. It certainly doesn’t sound like a fair or efficient solution.
Additionally, when the demand increases, everything seems to take time and requires a lot of upper-echelons’ sign-offs to ensure it’s not cost-prohibitive. It’s a challenging transition for everyone involved, to say the least.
While the above is not exactly a computing example, it can help us break down two definitions.
On the other hand, elasticity in cloud computing means the system can dynamically adapt its capabilities to the current workload. In other words, if more (or less) storage is suddenly needed or more (or fewer) machines are required to process the data, the system is ”smart” enough to detect that changing demand without external input from an admin. Here the provision is that those “extra” resources are readily available to meet the ad-hoc traffic or workload demands.
Although cloud elasticity and cloud scalability are two different things, they often go hand in hand. Together, they have the power to help make effective cost savings and ensure business continuity and disaster recovery with minimal downtime when unforeseen or underestimated circumstances come into play.
So if the hypothetical Airline AB existed, it would benefit from handling all its HR and workload delegating processes via scalable and elastic cloud computing solutions.
But there are also more things to consider.
Vertical and horizontal scaling – going up or out?
In aviation, the answer is obvious and non-negotiable. The flight mechanics require the plane to go up first, cruise horizontally once the flight level is reached, and go down for landing.
In cloud computing, however, that question is about capacity. And the answer largely depends on your company’s business needs, the given timeframe, and budget.
If processing power is missing, you can simply boost the existing CPUs. That way you go up, but your infrastructure is intact. This is known as vertical scaling, and it means a quick reaction time to changing demands.
On the contrary, horizontal scaling refers to adding more machines, so expanding your infrastructure outwardly. Sometimes, it might turn into a more lengthy and costly operation. But, in the long run, it should reduce the scaling downtime since you no longer rely on just one unit.
“Cloud nine” computing
The biggest advantage of cloud computing is that there’s no need for expensive data centers, on-premises physical infrastructure, or vast hardware. It’s all, virtually, just a few clicks away.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the customer circle persistently grows. According to statistics, “94% of enterprises use cloud services” in 2022. The cloud adoption rate for infrastructure is equally impressive, sitting at 67%.
Share of corporate data stored in the cloud over time (Data Source: Zippia.com)
Cloud platforms, such as AWS (Amazon Web Services), Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure, are now an almost mandatory addition to successful businesses.
There’s no doubt that those impressive results are also due to the scalable cloud architecture and its elastic processing power.
So you could risk a statement that cloud computing is like “being on cloud nine” in the IT sector. Because many common problems related to maintaining physical hardware simply vanish into thin air.
So how can cloud computing benefit aviation?
Let’s now go back to the dire situation Heathrow Airport finds itself in the summer of 2022.
If an HR database and planned flight log existed as interconnected systems in its cloud environments, the algorithm would have been able to spot the gradually increasing need for more staff before the holiday chaos ensued.
As a result, the system’s elasticity would have enabled the automatic deployment of more staff to work during the busy summer 2022 period.
Those two cloud features could also benefit aviation in other ways, in our opinion.
IATA (the International Air Transport Association) calls aviation “the business of freedom”. However, many of its tools (i.e. ticketing or ancillary services) are outdated. Some were introduced in the 1960s, and have had few updates since, rendering them incompatible with current passenger expectations, like flexible luggage fares that were not even considered back then.
Moving to the cloud could push things in the right direction by implementing scalable business models that simultaneously offer an elastic solution for the ever-changing demands of the XXI century air travel.
It might be too late for cloud computing to save the summer 2022 holiday season. But its scalability and elasticity features should definitely be considered in avoiding similar chaos in the future. After all, no passenger wants their luggage lost for weeks. It’s no fun to miss a flight when going on a long-awaited honeymoon, either.
And if cloud computing can benefit one of the biggest industries in the world, it can certainly help your business as well.