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IMS EMEA Newsletter Issue 3 - July 2010

 

Thin clients, big advantages

 

Vol3-8Most airline check-in desks are built around conventional PCs, with their powerful local processors and capacious hard discs for data storage. They work well enough, but can be expensive to maintain and have limited service lives. ARINC EMEA has just trialled a system architecture that cuts maintenance costs and improves hardware longevity.

Working with Manchester Airports Group, Virgin Atlantic and handling agent Swissport, ARINC installed “thin client” workstations running its vMUSE common-use check-in application at two desks in the UK airport’s Terminal 2 for a four-day trial in April.

A thin-client workstation has no hard drive and no other moving parts. But it can give the user the same functionality as a “fat client” PC because most of the application software and working data are held on a remote server and supplied on demand over a local area network. The server, located in a data centre or “core room,” handles all of the necessary processing and can be accessed by multiple users from any number of different locations.

Thin clients score on the environmental front in two ways. They consume less power because they have no moving parts. And they generate much less heat because most of their processes are handled in the core room, making it possible to dispense with cooling fans and so further economise on power. They are also far more reliable than standard PCs, typically offering two or three times as much working life.

Airport operators like them because their simplicity cuts support costs and makes the overall system easier to manage. And a networked architecture allows central storage of all data, with accompanying benefits to security.

At Manchester Airport ARINC installed a new Hewlett Packard server in one of the core rooms used to accommodate the company’s existing applications on the site. The new unit was partitioned into a number of virtual servers, avoiding the need for a number of different pieces of hardware for each function. It communicated over the local area network with thin clients and existing certificated boarding-pass and luggage-tag printers at two desks operated by Swissport for Virgin Atlantic. The handling company used the thin-client workstations to process all the passengers checking in at the two desks throughout the trial period.

“We and support partner ServiceTec closely monitored check-in operations and the performance of the workstations, observing directly at the desks and speaking regularly to Swissport and Virgin staff,” says ARINC site manager Sean Littlewood. “We were interested in the response time and performance of the workstations and applications, and the overall user experience. And at the beginning of the campaign we gathered information on what it took to set up the core systems and deploy the workstations.”

The results were very encouraging, according to Littlewood. “The desk agents said they were very happy with the performance of the workstations, which had proved problem-free,” he says. “We found that deployment and set-up of the server and the workstations took less time than it would have with a traditional vMUSE intsallation. And the existing Fujitsu and the IER printers worked well with the thin clients.”

Littlewood hopes that the Manchester success will eventually lead to operational adoption of the ARINC thin-client architecture there and at other airports around the world. “This is a cheaper, greener, more flexible way of implementing common-use check-in systems,” he says. “We proved the concept at Manchester and now we’re ready to bring all those advantages to our airport customers.”

 

 

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