Gatwick Airport is planning to become the first airport to move its central operational database to the cloud, as part of wider plans to consolidate its data centre estate.

The airport, which has undergone a major IT transformation since being sold by BAA in 2009, is aiming to adopt a ‘cloud first’ policy as it seeks to reduce its server count from more than 800 to 250, over three years.

“Everything at Gatwick is going to be cloud,” said Anthony Lamoureux, head of IT service delivery at Gatwick Airport. “Or certainly the strategy is that the answer is cloud, now tell me why it can’t be cloud.”

A major component of this plan will be to move its airport operational databases (AODB) off-premise, partnering with airport software services firm UFIS on the development of its Airtilus platform, said Lamoureux.

Airport operational databases (AODB) contain a wide variety of logistical information that is critical to the running of the airport. For Gatwick Airport this involves terabytes of information such as who is on a plane, where they are going to, or what meals need to be served on a flight, with the data housed in its SQL databases.

By placing this information in the cloud, Gatwick Airport expects to remove between 90 and 100 servers currently devoted to running its operational database in its two on-premise data centres, and is expected to bring savings of several hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

Parts of the system will go live early next year, making Gatwick Airport the “first airport in the world” to use a cloud-based operational database, Lamoureux said.

Another benefit will be that, as other companies start using the cloud platform, it will become significantly easier to share information between airport operators.

“The thing about an AODB is that when you have one airport doing it it is fine, but imagine the power of when you are having multiple airports which are all connected up with all the data from, say, Gatwick airport and Schipol airport. Any flight that goes between the two of them, they are all in the same database so you already know everything.”

He added: “You don’t have to have an old x.25 connector between London and another company who then sends that information via wires around the world, which is the way that all airports are connected at the moment.”

Gatwick Airport also plans to migrate around 300 test servers as part of its cloud plans.

From an end-user computing perspective, the airport has already been implementing software as a service (SaaS) tools such as enterprise cloud storage from Box.

The cloud strategy is one of a number of forward-thinking IT initiatives in place at the airport. This has included partnering with Google to provide customers with a full Google Indoor Maps layout of the airport, as well as an automatic passenger recognition system.

TheHuman Recognition Systems (HRS) went on trial earlier this year, and plans are in place to expand on this, for example sending text alerts to notify passengers who are running late for flights – a major problem for the airline which is subject to regulatory fines for delays.

Lamoureux said: "Gatwick is a revolutionary place. It is about teaming up with the best people, and not trying do all of the stuff yourself. Gatwick isn’t an IT developer, what it is really good at is finding the right partners who are experts in what they do and using them, and that is why we are working with the likes of Google.”