Royal Caribbean delivers real-time microservices to the open seas with DC/OS

The following is a summary of the presentation “From Shore to Ship: Using Mesosphere DC/OS to Deliver Real-Time Microservices to a Global Fleet of Ships” delivered by Eli Tsinovoi from EY at this year’s MesosCon North America. Tsinovoi, the microservices & data streaming practice leader from EY, shared how Royal Caribbean chose Mesosphere DC/OS to deploy a suite of applications on-board its global fleet of more than 40 ships. These applications, designed to improve the on-board experience for passengers and unlock new revenue streams, consist of both containerized microservices and fast data services like Apache Kafka and Apache Cassandra.

The purpose of the project

Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Tsinovoi explained, aimed to build “a digital hub that will define a smart middleware layer that provides agility, resiliency, scalability and improved performance by leveraging microservice architecture and modern integration technology.”

Orchestrating microservices across the land and sea was no small feat, however. Eli and team had to solve for these unique challenges:

  • Limited bandwidth to sync data across ship and shore: Most of the ship’s 300 Mb satellite connection is allocated to guest services, and the systems still need to support real-time services like weather and guest reservations.
  • Limited on-board IT support: Systems must be self-healing and have an automated cloud-like experience that allows admins to connect remotely to a system that behaves exactly as expected.
  • The functionality of the datacenter without the square footage: Building customer 360 profiles in real time requires serious compute power without sacrificing space for guest amenities in order to build an on-board datacenter.
  • Zero downtime for upgrades: No rest for the weary; cruise ships have limited time at port and need that time to sync customer profiles and systems of record on land. Having any downtime for an upgrade could delay voyages and be very costly.

Facing significant infrastructure and operational challenges presented by both the distributed nature of a fleet of ships as well as an earlier reliance on numerous legacy systems, Royal Caribbean’s engineering team partnered with EY to choose a modern technology platform that could create a unified footprint from ship to shore.

Unlocking new revenue streams

At the core of Royal Caribbean’s technology stack is its legacy reservation system. Any future solution needed to be able to extract data from the legacy system to enable modern, mobile experiences for passengers. According to Tsinovoi, Royal Caribbean is spending over a million dollars across the fleet in printing costs to inform guests of daily ship activities and offerings that can now be retrieved from the mobile app. If guests wanted to book an activity or add a special food-and-beverage package listed in one of those brochures, they had to stand in line to see an on-board concierge and purchase it, depending on availability. As a millennial, Tsinovoi notes, nobody has time for that.

By creating a reliable, mobile experience — whether at the port or on the ship — Royal Caribbean stands to unlock new revenue streams by delivering timely, in-context offers to a new generation of passengers who expect to be able to check on-board activities, make restaurant and event reservations, and complete purchases from their mobile device.

Navigating a complex technology landscape

The team at Royal Caribbean know they need a microservices-oriented architecture in order to maintain their competitive edge. Although they considered alternatives from Pivotal and Red Hat Openshift, the Royal Caribbean team landed on Mesosphere DC/OS to tackle their unique infrastructure and operations challenges.

As one of the world’s largest floating distributed systems, Royal Caribbean entrusted the Mesosphere DC/OS platform to:

  • Standardize their ship-shore systems footprint, creating dead-simple edge clouds with the same operational experience, whether on ship or on shore; and
  • Keep ship-shore systems in sync with real-time, accessible data across multiple origination points and periods of limited connectivity.

Mesosphere DC/OS was the performant, reliable platform they needed to orchestrate container and data services at scale.

Designing the architecture for a global fleet

With Mesosphere DC/OS as the backbone, any new application or any service would now be deployed with microservices principles. The complicated orchestration of technology services between the cruise line’s cloud and fleet of ships is made possible by combining internally developed microservices alongside data services that are easily deployed from the DC/OS service catalog.

The Royal Caribbean mobile app, built on top of a Mesosphere DC/OS service layer, enhances the customer experience, making services and special offers discoverable and easing the transaction process — all pointing toward increased revenue streams and a better customer experience, overall.

Weathering the storm with resilient systems

When you have technology systems on the open seas across the globe, being able to respond to inclement weather with confidence is key. Most recently, Tsinovoi explains, Royal Caribbean’s operations, along with great areas of the Southeastern U.S., were affected by Hurricane Irma. In order to avoid the hurricane’s path, two cruises diverted from their original routes, resulting in a 3-day extension for one and a 3-day reduction for the other.

Despite the emergency, Royal Caribbean was able to create a seamless experience for guests. Tsinovoi notes that the service layer underneath the Royal Caribbean mobile application is built on DC/OS and that he was able to remotely update the cruising information for the affected voyages “with complete confidence that [his] app will stand up and no other page would be impacted.”

The future is limitless

With Mesosphere as its technology partner, Royal Caribbean is poised for continued innovation, using cognitive and machine learning to further improve guest services with even more personalized offers and cruise experiences. By reducing the overhead associated with its legacy systems and replacing key components with elastically scalable, resilient architecture from Mesosphere DC/OS, the global cruise line will be able continue its investment in innovation.

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