Rumors are flying that Google may acquire ITA Software. I know nothing of their validity, but I have known about ITA Software for a while. Random notes include:
- ITA Software builds huge OLTP systems that it runs itself on behalf of airlines.
- Very, very unusually, ITA Software builds these huge OLTP systems in LISP.
- ITA Software is an Oracle shop (see Dan Weinreb’s comment).
- ITA Software is run by a techie (again, see Dan Weinreb’s comment).
- ITA Software has an interesting screen-scraping/web ETL project called Needlebase
ITA’s software does both price/reservation lookup/checking and reservation-making. I’ve had trouble keeping it straight, but I think the lookup is ITA’s actual business, and the reservation-making is ITA’s Next Big Thing. This is one of the ultimate federated-transaction-processing applications, because it involves coordinating huge OLTP systems run, in some cases, by companies that are bitter competitors with each other. Network latencies have to allow for intercontinental travel of the data itself.
Indeed, airline reservation systems are pretty much the OLTP ultimate in themselves. As the story goes, transaction monitors were pretty much invented for airline reservation systems in the 1960s.
A really small project for ITA Software is Needlebase. I stopped by ITA to look at Needlebase in January, and what it is is a very smart and hence interesting screen-scraping system. The idea is people publish database information to the web, and you may want to look at their web pages and recover the database records it is based on. Applications of this to the airline industry, which has 100s of 1000s of price changes per day — and I may be too low by one or two orders of magnitude when I say that — should be fairly obvious. ITA Software has aspirations of applying Needlebase to other sectors as well, or more precisely having users who do so. Last I looked, ITA hadn’t put significant resources behind stimulating Needlebase adoption — but Google might well change that.
Edit: I just re-found an old characterization of (some of) what ITA Software does by — who else? — Dan Weinreb:
I am working on our new product, an airline reservation system. It’s an online transaction-processing system that must be up 99.99% of the time, maintaining maximum response time (e.g. on www.aircanada.com). It’s a very, very complicated system. The presentation layer is written in Java using conventional techniques. The business rule layer is written in Common Lisp; about 500,000 lines of code (plus another 100,000 or so of open source libraries). The database layer is Oracle RAC. We operate our own data centers, some here in Massachusetts and a disaster-recovery site in Canada (separate power grid).