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IBM Flies Through United Upgrade

By Jim Wagner     Feedback

As only one of a very few companies offering services for terrabyte-sized databases, Big Blue's global services division is proving it's up to the challenge.

Officials at IBM's global services division say they are flying through the upgrade of United Airline's conversion to DB2 and outsourcing services, transferring one terrabyte (TB) to Big Blue's eServer Cluster 1600 servers in the past six months.

According to John Charlson, IBM spokesperson, the time it's taken to reach the 1TB milestone airline is noteworthy.

"That's a very fast turnaround since we began the conversion of United's database six months ago," he said. "Not many companies out there could have handled it. Some of our biggest competitors, like Microsoft and Oracle don't even have customers who need this scale of service."

Charlson wouldn't put a dollar figure on the contract, which was struck last year, but said a contract of this size is usually more than $10 million all told.

IBM has been working with the airline industry since the 1960s, Charlson said, with most of the international and U.S. carriers already under their belt. Only lately have the companies been upgrading to IBM's DB2 database solution to streamline their operations and put the mountain of data they're aquired to good use. According to United figures, the carrier logs 1,700 flights in a day.

He points to a study by the University of California-Berkeley, which finds that in the next three years, more information will be published on the Web than in the first 300,000 years of civilization.

"The airlines want to use the information they've gathered to fill up their planes, using customer relationship management (CRM) tools to find out which flights are most popular and what people's flying habits are," Charlson said.

Conversion of United's remaining information, 5 TB's worth, will be accomplished in the next 18 months, IBM officials said. By way of comparison, the Library of Congress has 8 TB's worth of material and in 2001, 11 TB's of email passed through the Internet ether worldwide.

Charlson said United officials expect a return on investment (ROI) on their $10 million software upgrade in the next one to two years. By outsourcing the CRM service, they say, it's not just a possibility but an eventuality.

"We were confident that IBM could deliver a complete, integrated solution that could scale to meet our infrastructure demands," said Eric Dean, United chief information officer. "When we're finished, United Airlines will be well positioned as the carrier to provide more efficient operations and responsive customer policies."

This article was originally published on April 1, 2002
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