How Carnival Cruise Navigates IT on the High SeasBy Samuel Greengard
Few businesses face the IT complexities of a major cruise line. Managing systems and connectivity across a network of offices and a fleet of ships can sink even the most tech-savvy CIO. For Carnival Cruise, which operates 24 vessels worldwide, ensuring fast and reliable communication is at the center of the business is critical to its success. However, "a traditional IT and application infrastructure does not work particularly well. In the past, we have had problems ensuring consistent communication with the company's main servers," said Pedro Esteban, GIS Monitoring Lead for Carnival Corporation & PLC.
At the heart of the problem: the Miami-based cruise line relies heavily on satellite communications to connect ships and the central office, and links frequently go down due to the position of ships, maintenance and a variety of other factors. Previously, disruptions and downtime generated a tsunami of problems—and often rendered key services and data unavailable.
"We had key business functions go down in the middle of the night and, frequently, we were not alerted. We have about a 15-to-20-minute window before we begin to experience significant problems," Esteban said. The end result was an IT organization that was "far more reactive and much less efficient."
Identifying gaps, glitches and downtime—and recognizing potential problems before they become critical IT issues is essential. "We required a 24/7 monitoring tool because downtime for any application for even a few minutes could potentially mean loss of crucial business or a major disruption," he said. Consequently, the company, after examining a number of potential solutions, turned to ManageEngine's Applications Manager to deliver an affordable and highly scalable centralized dashboard along with non-disruptive probing and monitoring. "The ability to conduct root-cause analysis and take a more proactive approach was critical, including when emergencies occur at night," Esteban explained.
The system, which went fully operational in 2011, automatically generates a trouble ticket and notifies staff, including those on call, when it's necessary to intervene, such as restarting a server. The solution also stores a year of past data so that IT staff and technicians can examine reports and further improve performance. This historical data—and the ability to drill down into it—is critical to solving problems.
"We have a lot more information and evidence to guide decision-making and improve systems and processes," Esteban said. The bottom line has been a significant decline in critical incidents, disruptions and downtime. This, in turn, has translated into higher customer satisfaction rates.
Esteban said that the most formidable challenge was remapping operational response processes and helping staff understand and fully recognize the value of alerts, which some initially viewed as disruptive. Carnival Corporation, which also owns and operates Princess Cruises and Holland America, is now in the process of adding the Applications Manager to additional vessels. Eventually, the technology will span the company's fleet of 100-plus ships.
"This technology delivers an extremely robust and affordable solution. It allows us to operate IT and the business on a far more advanced level and greatly reduce problems," Esteban said.