Qantas to add agility to legacy IT with APIs

Airline builds its own API gateway

Qantas is working on placing API layers in front of its legacy IT systems as part of a wide-ranging digital transformation program Australia’s largest airline has undertaken over the last two years.

Qantas has built its own API gateway and management platform, which currently provides its software developers with access to a small group of RESTful APIs — but a lot more are on the way, according to Jessica Lin. Lin is manager, digital technology and services, for Qantas IT and the product owner of the platform.

Qantas’ decision to build its own solution was a “rather unconventional approach for a larger enterprise,” Lin acknowledged in a talk yesterday to the APIdays conference in Sydney.

However, she said the risk inherent in the approach made sense in the context of the broader transformation Qantas has been undergoing, which has seen the airline boost its software development capabilities.

“That’s given us the capability to be able to design and build and upgrade [and] support our own platform, to support the technology decision choices that we have made,” Lin said.

It’s also a conscious choice to take on certain risks and complexity and in return see benefits in terms of speed and cost effectiveness, she added.

The homegrown API gateway and management platform was released into Qantas’ production environment in December 2016. It includes an internal developer portal with an API catalogue, API authentication, API versioning and routing, support for API throttling, and analytics and monitoring.

Currently a handful of APIs are published on the portal: An API for customer profiles — allowing the identification of an individual based on their frequent flyer number and offering access to their preferences and travel history; an API for business profiles; and an API that can be employed by business areas that need to collect payments from customers.

APIs that Lin expects to be registered on the portal include flight scheduling; flight status and events; flight offers and promotions; check-in APIs; boarding passes; lounge services; crew profiles; and aircraft maintenance data.

There’s “a lot of data flying about” in the Qantas ecosystem, and APIs can provide an efficient and cost-effective way of bringing together external and internal sources of data, Lin said. The adoption of APIs has also been driven by the increasing need to engage customers across multiple channels.

The airline is yet to discuss whether to open up Qantas’ APIs beyond its internal developers and partners, she said.

The airline conducted two proof of concepts for the API platform: One using a proprietary off-the-shelf product and another using a cloud-based, homegrown solution that leaned heavily on open source. The latter provided the basis for the platform currently used.

Qantas’ cloud-based setup uses NGINX as an API gateway, Red Hat’s 3Scale for API management, ModSecurity to provide a web application firewall and Node.js for automation of registration, routing and other functions.

Qantas has adopted Amazon Web Services in a big way, so developing a cloud-native solution was a key consideration, Lin said. The platform the airline built has auto-healing and auto-scaling capabilities, so it doesn’t suffer capacity constraints, and it is heavily automated.

The use of open source has cost benefits, particularly as Qantas continues to grow the platform, Lin said. The airline can also add new features as needed, she said.

The downside is the complexity inherent in combining multiple open source components in a highly custom platform, she added.

Lin said that one of the next major steps for the platform will be adding SOAP support “so that we are able to unlock the value from our legacy services”.

Qantas is also making a major push on microservices, Lin said. “We’re also adopting microservices architecture to allow us to innovate more quickly,” she said.

Microservices will give developer teams the autonomy to innovate in their own area of functionality without affecting work by other teams. It will also allow Qantas to scale up and down its business services at a more granular level, Lin said.

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