Travel giant Sabre bets big on multicloud, signing deal with Microsoft Azure weeks after a new deal with Amazon Web Services

(Pixabay Photo / cc0)

Thanks to investments in container technology and microservices, Sabre is ready to embark on a multicloud infrastructure strategy, signing a “strategic agreement” with Microsoft Azure the same month it inked a similar partnership with Amazon Web Services.

The agreement with Microsoft involves pricing and support considerations for certain types of workloads that Sabre will move over to Azure, such as applications that currently run on Windows inside Sabre data centers, said Joe DiFonzo, chief information officer for the company. Earlier this month, Sabre expanded an existing partnership with Amazon Web Services through another “long-term strategic agreement.”

Joe DiFonzo, CIO, Sabre (Sabre Photo)

Sabre is an interesting tech crossroads: it built very sophisticated booking and marketing-management software that is used by countless companies in the travel industry, but the core of that system is still handcuffed to a massive data center running mainframes in Tulsa, Okla., DiFonzo said. As long as that’s true, the company needs to operate a private cloud data center in North Texas for apps that depend on those mainframes because of the speed of light: the delays in connecting to cloud providers caused by latency were simply too problematic, he said.

But that strategy is changing as Sabre looks to cut costs across the company. New applications that don’t need to be physically close to the Tulsa data center are being written with a common microservices architecture and deployed on Docker containers with help from Red Hat’s OpenShift, DiFonzo said.

This gives Sabre “the maximum portability we can get,” he said. “We want to have incentives for (cloud providers) not to take our business for granted.”

In the early days of cloud computing through the last couple of years, multicloud computing was wishful thinking for a lot of companies. Both technical challenges and practical benefits led to many early converts to the cloud picking one provider and making a significant investment around their services.

That thinking has started to change as technologies like containers and Kubernetes, which make it much easier to move applications across multiple different operating environments, moved past the early-adopter phase. Cloud vendors have also started to differentiate themselves around certain technologies, DiFonzo said, like artificial intelligence or the internet of things. That provides a larger incentive to spread workloads across different baskets depending on the most appropriate home for that workload.

There are also a lot of enterprise technology buyers who have been scarred by single-vendor strategies in their past, and who want to avoid the same fate in the cloud computing era. DiFonzo said Sabre is also using several other cloud providers on a “tactical” basis, although he declined to name any of those relationships.

Sabre wants to get rid of its mainframes by 2023 and eventually get out of the infrastructure management business entirely, DiFonzo said, so there’s a lot of opportunity for both cloud vendors to pick up business as Sabre rewrites its core applications with the cloud in mind. Vish Saoji, Sabre’s chief technology officer, did point out one feature in Microsoft’s cap: the Azure-OpenShift partnership announced earlier this month by Microsoft and Red Hat, which is attractive to Sabre given its investment in OpenShift.

And DiFonzo said that Microsoft’s embrace of Linux over the last few years is what really gave it the confidence to expand its cloud provider options. Like most companies, a lot of Sabre’s enterprise applications run on Linux, and that hasn’t been Microsoft’s strong suit until fairly recently.

“Microsoft has made a lot of advances in recent years like this,” he said. “They are just as capable a platform for our Linux applications as any other platform out there.”

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