Inflight Internet with NGINX at Gogo

Gogo Taps NGINX Plus to Serve All Inflight Internet Customers

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Situation

Gogo Inc. is one of the most loved brands by travelers across the globe. They’re the top provider of in-flight connectivity and entertainment solutions for some of the largest airlines in the world. Gogo customers include: American Airlines, Air Canada, AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, Virgin America, Mexico Airlines and Japan Airlines. With teams based in Itasca, IL, Broomfield, CO and London, Gogo serves customers in the sky 24/7 in more than 6,500 aircraft.

In mid 2013, Gogo completed a review of its payment portals – the pages customers visit when they want to purchase Internet access – and determined that due to tremendous growth in their business the existing backend system had grown to a point where it was overly complex and difficult to manage.

At the time, there was a purchase portal for a each scenario where a customer might make a purchase. For instance – if the customer was still in the airport, their transaction was conducted through a portal for that scenario. But once on the airplane, a different purchase portal would be accessed to manage on-plane transactions. At the time, there were more than 3 primary portals being used.

This setup was causing three distinct problems:

  1. Any change made to transaction-related systems needed to be deployed
    to each portal, one at a time. The rework was wasting IT resources.
  2. Transaction logic was becoming unnecessarily complex.
  3. Customers were receiving inconsistent experiences based on business logic rather than a unified presentation layer.

Solution

Gogo’s VP of Data Centers and Infrastructure, Vinay Kudithipudi teamed up with lead engineer Ramesh Patel, on a project to identify and implement a solution that would help them consolidate the various portals into one unified purchase path (UPP).

While Gogo’s application architecture followed a typical three-tier model (database, application and web tiers) there was significant complexity in how the frontend portal layer was designed that required consolidation. Gogo needed a single portal that could intelligently route traffic at scale, allowing them to introduce new features and capabilities quickly. Vinay and Ramesh identified the need for an HTTP load balancer to route traffic and one that closely integrated with Gogo’s applications. Traditional industry approaches – such as hardware-based load balancers – could cost orders of magnitude more than NGINX Plus, and typically need internal experts to manage them.

“If we had to do this with your typical solutions, we’d need a load balancer capable of SSL termination and Layer 7 routing,” says Kudithipudi. “While there are hardware-based solutions that can do that, they are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars more expensive than NGINX Plus.”

As Vinay and Ramesh were evaluating their options, NGINX Inc. announced the availability of its flagship commercial product, NGINX Plus. Gogo was already using the NGINX open source product in other areas – but the new enterprise capabilities (particularly the application load balancing features) was a perfect fit for their requirements. However, it was important to carefully vet the technology, as more than 90% of inflight internet revenue would eventually be delivered by this solution.

Vinay says they looked at NGINX Plus as “our focus was Layer 7 load balancing and SSL termination – few products can do all of that well. We found that NGINX Plus was the best and the easiest.”

Upon closer examination, Vinay and Ramesh found that NGINX Plus had a unique mix of features that could flex to their needs.

After a thorough review of NGINX Plus and a few conversations with the services and support team, GoGo began testing and implementation.

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Results

>Reduced Time to Market

Implementation was the earliest indicator of the success to come from the project. In fact – the NGINX Plus team was able to go from beta to production in less than 2 days.

“Industry standard solutions would have taken, if not several months, at least a whole month”, Kudithipudi affirmed. “NGINX Plus had us up and running in a couple days. In fact – we spent more time doing testing on our app and working on our change process than we ever needed to spend deploying NGINX Plus.”

While time to market with the new UPP was a tremendous achievement, there were
several other ways in which Vinay and Ramesh were measuring success.

If we had to do this with your typical solutions, we’d need a load balancer capable of SSL termination and Layer 7 routing. While there are hardware-based solutions that can do that, they are tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars more expensive than NGINX Plus.
– Vinay Kudithipudi, VP of Data Centers and Infrastructure at Gogo

>Reduced Complexity

The added efficiency of NGINX Plus and a unified purchase portal reduced infrastructure burden from 27 servers with 4 CPUs and 8 GB of RAM on the legacy system to one server with 4 GB of RAM running effortlessly on a high-availability pair of NGINX Plus, one active and one for redundancy.

There was also an unanticipated benefit – the flexibility and speed of NGINX has helped Gogo consolidate and simplify at the application tier as well.

While cost savings were not an explicit goal of the project, Gogo has achieved cost savings over their legacy system even when measured simply in terms of infrastructure burden. Infrastructure support costs were reduced 30% based on the reduced number of servers needed.

>High Availability and Stability 

Since Gogo moved from Apache to NGINX Plus, they have achieved nearly 100% uptime and have experienced no issues with NGINX Plus to date.

Today – over 90% of revenue passes through NGINX Plus and Gogo’s IT organization can focus their attention on innovation and driving the business forward without worrying about downtime and the risk of lost revenue.

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>Confidence Through Support

Kudithipudi also called out NGINX’s support team for exceptional service:

“If you’re deploying NGINX Plus in an enterprise and most of your skills are in Apache or some other web server, then I would highly recommend the professional services. They’re worth their weight in gold.”

Gogo purchased a service pack that gave them access to NGINX experts on an as needed basis throughout the project. NGINX services (the same people who were the original authors of NGINX) provided hands-on support, training and work to ensure a quick (2 day) push from beta to production, dramatically reducing time-to-market.

Based on the success of the purchase portal consolidation project, Gogo is reviewing all applications to determine areas where NGINX Plus can be leveraged for similar results.

“With NGINX Plus, our team can spend more time innovating rather than firefighting.”

– Vinay Kudithipudi, VP of Data Centers and Infrastructure

About Gogo

Gogo is the global leader of in-flight connectivity and wireless in-flight digital entertainment solutions. Using Gogo’s exclusive products and services, passengers with Wi-Fi enabled devices can get online on more than 2,000 Gogo equipped commercial aircraft. In-flight connectivity partners include: Aeromexico, American Airlines, Air Canada, AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, Japan Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America. In-flight entertainment partners include Aeromexico, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines, Scoot and US Airways. In addition to its commercial airline business, Gogo has more than 6,500 business aircraft outfitted with its communications services.

Gogo is a registered trademark of Gogo LLC. All other marks are those of respective owners.