Thursday, 1st July 2010
Google Acquisition: Fast Facts About ITA Software; System Can Handle More Than One Million Queries Per Second
Update: This article focuses primarily on the ITA technology that, if the sale is approved, will become part of Google. For more on the business side see:
+ Google Takes On Travel Sites, Courts Regulatory Action With ITA Acquisition (via Greg Sterling at Search Engine Land)
+ Google Acquires ITA Software for 700 Million
+ Google buys travel software company for $700M (AP via USA Today)
Cambridge, MA based airline info provider ITA Software was just acquired (pending regulatory approval) by guess who...yes indeed, Google for $700 million.
ITA Software was founded by MIT grads in the mid-1990's. This timeline offers a look at key dates in ITA Software history including when QPX (the name of the ITA software that provides scheduling, seat availability, pricing, and other info) was launched by Orbitz in June, 2001. During March, 2002, three airlines (U.S. Airways, Continental, and Alaska Airline began successfully using ITA technology. Last September, Southwest Airlines (known for their simple fare structure) began using ITA Software.
In the late 1990's you could use ITA Software to flight availability and find fare info but could not book tickets. In fact, the site is still available and is still great to use to find the travel info you need and then go armed with that info to another site (or the phone) to purchase tickets. So, if you want to see basic ITA technology in action, visit the user interface at: http://matrix.itasoftware.com/cvg/dispatch.
This article includes more examples about why you might want to go directly to ITA Software.
New display technology (Matrix 2) is being developed (we don't know if any partner is using it and you cannot purchase tickets) but it's very cool. It even has a database of events at your destination. The database is built using open web data and organized by a company named Needle and its Needlebase service. Needlebase offers many services including web page scraping. ITA Software is the developer and owner.
Give Matrix 2 a Try Here
From the FAQ:
Needle is ITA Software’s innovative new platform for acquiring, integrating, cleansing, analyzing and publishing data on the web...
Q. How does Needle differ from other web-scrapers?
A. Most web-scraping tools are brittle and have severe problems dealing with web pages that are even slightly irregular in format. Needle uses advanced machine-learning techniques to extract data from a wide range of web-pages and other data sources quickly, reliably and robustly, without requiring any specialized knowledge of programming concepts, HTML structure, or regular expressions.
Moreover, other web-scraping tools consider their work done once they've extracted each site's structured content. When it comes to the rest of your job—transforming each site's content into your target database schema, finding and reconciling duplicates, correcting mistakes, and publishing a unified view of the data from all sources—then you've been on your own. Until now.
ITA is also the creator of the "Matrix" display (how the results are presented). These days it looks rather familiar.
Fast Facts From the ITA Web Site:
+ Utilize Distributed Computing vs. Mainframe Systems
+ "Unique method to store, calculate, distribute, seat availability and flight schedule info"
+ OPX system can handle over one million queries per second
+ Company is Building new reservation system from, "the ground up."
Much More After a Click
Here's the Official Announcement:
Google's acquisition of ITA Software will create a new, easier way for users to find better flight information online, which should encourage more users to make their flight purchases online.
+ The acquisition will benefit passengers, airlines and online travel agencies by making it easier for users to comparison shop for flights and airfares and by driving more potential customers to airlines' and online travel agencies' websites. Google won't be setting airfare prices and has no plans to sell airline tickets to consumers.
The FAQ points out that the highest-volume of searches on Google are travel related searches. When you do a travel search looking for tickets (Chicago O'Hare to LAX in this example) on Google, the default search (clicking the city names) is to Expedia. They do not use ITA. You can also click and have the same city combo passed to other travel databases including Orbitz, Kayak, and Hotwire that are powered by ITA Software.
+ Google has no plans to sell tickets. They want to provide the info and then refer "people quickly to a site where they can actually purchase flights..." Results pages often a entirely new place to position ads for products and services relating to travel and the destination where the traveler is heading to.
One thing that could happen if the deal is approved and things stay the same as they are at this hour, Google technology will power the Bing Travel search engine. Bing acquired fare prediction software from Farecast in for $115 million in 2008 but the software providing flight info and availability would come from ITA Software.
In February, 2010 Fast Company named ITA Software the 9th most innovative company in transportation. According to the article, ITA software accounts for 65% of online air bookings.
Some of ITA's Partners
UK--Virgin Atlantic (New, Installation Completion Announcement on June 28, 2010)
Some ITA Travel Distribution
Defense Travel Systems (U.S. Military)
Several Others Can Be Seen Here
Note: Greg Sterling correctly points out that ITA provides airline info ONLY. Other databases have to be used for hotels, rental cars, etc.
See Also: Tech Geeks Can Learn More About How QPX Works