HOB Solutions at Work
TUI InfoTec: Mainframe Connection of Travel Agencies to the Data Center in Hanover
IRIS (Integrated Reservation and Information System) is made available by TUI InfoTec to tourist companies belonging to the Preussag Group. Although TUI InfoTec could, in the German-speaking parts of Europe, rely on national network service providers to be the switching points between the tour operators and the travel agencies, it also needed to connect foreign travel agencies to this booking system. Via IRIS, travel agency employees have the possibility to make travel bookings and receive detailed information on available offers. For the remote access of foreign travel agencies, an inexpensive solution had to be found. The most practicable way was to provide the agencies with direct access over the Internet to the IRIS system in the corporate data center.
Important criteria were data security and the ability to print out online booking confirmations locally, with the least amount of installation of extra software or equipment on the travel agency client computers. To fulfill these and other requirements, TUI InfoTec collaborated with their colleagues from the tourism industry and the connectivity software developer HOB to implement a comprehensive Web-to-Host strategy that has a multi-level security and functional data compression solution. With this, they were also successful in implementing the technical requirements for printing locally over the Web in the original layout.
"In Germany, Austria and Switzerland, we follow a strategy of strict Host-to-Host communication," said Thomas Wolf, Head of Customer Relations Management and Fulfillment at TUI InfoTec GmbH. "In these countries, where the majority of our travel industry partners are located," continued Mr. Wolf, "we can optimally support the entire classical range of travel agency activities together with our travel agency service providers, for example, START AMADEUS. They supply a comprehensive IT infrastructure, for example, for our booking system IRIS, and provide the travel agencies with additional services. We have a dedicated line for the Host-to-Host communication between our service partners and our OS/390 system."
According to Mr. Wolf, this booking system is currently running in more than a thousand travel agencies with about 30,000 terminals. "it is quite a large network," comments Mr. Wolf, "the communication with foreign travel agencies as well as the agencies belonging to the company in the destination areas that do things like make plans for transfers between airports and hotels, excursions and general customer care in the vacation areas gave us some trouble. Our first goal was to provide our partners with optimal service and be able to exchange data in real time."
An implementation of the Host-to-Host communication in European countries out of the area was not possible, as it is difficult, or very expensive, to work together with partner companies that provide the same range of necessary services.
To, on the one hand, increase availability for these foreign agencies and, on the other optimize collaboration, the decision was made for a two-prong strategy: Cooperation with travel agency service providers in the German speaking area and direct connections to the IRIS system running on OS/390 Mainframes in the company data center for the foreign travel agencies and those in the vacation areas . The most economical way of doing this was to create an online connection over the Internet.
In addition to transparent online access to the IRIS system, printability of the data had to be assured. This meant that the online booking confirmations had to be capable of being printed in the standard layouts on a normal, local workplace printer. At the same time, the size of the print data stream sent over the Internet had to be kept within a reasonable limit. The highest demands were placed on data security: In the course of the entire communication with the Mainframe over the Internet the data had to be completely insulated. Last, but not least: A high level of acceptance by the involved travel agencies had to be assured. This necessitated a solution that would not place high demands on the required hard- and software.
The decision was made for a Web-to-Host plan that consisted of two core components: the clients would be equipped with a 3270 Java emulation that could be downloaded via a browser (HOBLink J-Term). Additionally, the Mainframe software HOBCOM was deployed. HOBCOM is used ad an integration software for the 3270 Mainframe and controls, via an internal protocol, the print processes. The software's printer functionality enables outputting the print job to the client computer from a CICS (Customer Information Control System) application and also supports the addition of formula parameters and escape sequences. The same protocol controls the data compression and encryption. To ensure a high security standard, a multi-level security plan is used that required a triple authentication to the different systems. The 3270 data stream from the client to the host is completely encrypted in a special algorithm which allows for up to 256-bit encryption; additionally, the data going over the Internet from the client to the SSL proxy server are SSL encrypted. Minimum system requirements on the client machines are a Pentium II processor clocked at 233 MHz, Windows 9x, Windows ME, Windows XP, Windows NT, or Windows 2000, with at least 64 MB of RAM or, in the case of Windows 2000 and Windows XP, 128 MB RAM. Internet access via ISDN or an analog connection with a minimum bandwidth of 28 Kbps as well as a browser, Microsoft Internet Explorer as of Version 4.01 or Netscape Communicator 4.51 or higher complete the requirements.
Internet Topology and Procedure
Each travel agency is provided with an SSL certificate and password. The system topology up to the data center in Hanover is depicted in figure 1. The Web server is used to download the Java/SSL applets. Prerequisite: Entry of the SSL key and SSL password.
There also the applet's user profile settings are stored in a portal database. The Java applet HOBLink J-Term builds a connection to the Web server, unnoticeably to the user, using a guest user account, and loads a user-specific profile which determines what the range of allowed operations and user interface will be. Then the SSL applet prompts the user to enter the SSL password. After the proper password is entered, the SSL applet makes a connection to the SSL proxy server. This connection is already encrypted. In the area between the SSL proxy and the Mainframe partition with HOBCOM, which is in communication with the booking system IRIS, the data are also encrypted. The entire TCP/IP connection from the client to the Host is implemented via an internal protocol within this Mainframe software, which supports four different screen sessions and a printer connection and, at the same time, performs the data compression and encryption. Within the Mainframe component HOBCOM, only those users are configured who are authorized to access the Mainframe over the Internet.
Printing the Online Booking Confirmation
After the user authentication data and password are entered, a batch task is started, over which, via IRIS, booking confirmations can be printed. Simultaneously, the user is forwarded to a TPX session manager from CA. Here again the user is prompted to enter a TSS password (Top Secret System). As an additional security measure, after entering false or incorrect login information three times in a row, a user will be blocked from further attempts until re-enabled by a First Level Support member. Only after successfully entry of the authentication data and password will the user be connected to the application IRIS on the OS/390 Host, which generates and transmits the data stream for a print job.
"The connection and all subsequent procedures are completely transparent for the user," explained Mr. Wolf , who continued: "We had to make some adaptations to our system in order to print from IRIS over the Internet. We integrated the PMS (Print Management System) into the Host topology; this forwards the data directly to HOBCOM, which processes the data and then sends it to the HOBLink J-Term applet."
"This solution was met with a positive response by the foreign agencies. Since we began the rollout we have already connected 600 travel agencies and their partners in the vacation areas to the IRIS system, while enormously reducing our internal workload," concluded Mr. Wolf.