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2007 ISA for Data Warehousing

  • October 23 2007, 4:41pm EDT

Data warehousing is the heart of the strategic reporting systems used to help manage and control the business. The function of the data warehouse is to consolidate and reconcile information across disparate business units and IT systems and provide context for reporting and analyzing.

Solution Implementer: Frontier Airlines

Solution Provider: Greenplum

Business Pain

Frontier Airlines has turned to a low-cost business intelligence (BI) option to give itself the tools that will help it remain competitive in a cut-throat business, supplying the lowest-cost flights. It's another case of airlines turning to advanced IT technology to keep themselves in business. Frontier is second only to United Airlines at the new Denver International Airport, a major hub that occupies a site that is twice the size of Manhattan. To stay competitive amidst all the contenders that surround it, Frontier has adopted Greenplum's Greenplum Database BI tools, which act on data in a PostgreSQL open source database. Bizgres is also an open source project at

Frontier Airlines needed to create a data mart for a revenue management application that analyzed trends in airline travel using data from travel companies, reservation systems and other airlines. The solution needed to support complex analysis of massive amounts of data by many users across the company.

Frontier Airlines' revenue management team had been looking for open source solution that would be cost effective, innovative and scalable to meet their future needs. The solution also needed to be agile enough to support various BI tools. Daxpy, an advanced analytics company that partners with Greenplum, introduced Frontier Airlines to Greenplum's database solution. Frontier chose to purchase Greenplum Database, which supports shared nothing, massively parallel database processing on commodity hardware.

Successful Solution

Frontier CIO Robert Rapp says the airline's yield management process runs on Greenplum Database. The system predicts the yield or profit that Frontier will receive on various flight combinations and ticket prices. The system helps Frontier determine where to offer seats at bargain prices and where to avoid what might turn out to be a competitive bloodletting, with no one profiting. Frontier used the system for five to six months before actually putting it into production in February. The 2.0 version of Greenplum Database came out at the end of 2005. The actual coding of the yield management system was done by a private business analytics consulting firm, Daxpy LLC, in partnership with Greenplum, which will be offering the yield management system as an application that can be added onto its Greenplum Database tools and the PostgreSQL database. The system runs on four Dell 2850 servers, including a controller server and three database servers. Ticket purchasing information is constantly available to the system in an updated fashion.

The revenue management application was developed using the Brits/DW Revenue Management BI Solution from Daxpy running on top of H\Greenplum Database. This application is used by several other airlines. It provides reports, analysis tools and alerts that improve forecast accuracy, monitor performance, recognize when and where action is needed, and, includes revenue management reports for optimizing performance and profitability. Data is loaded into the Greenplum data mart using in-house developed extract, transform and load (ETL) scripts to extract data from internal and external sources.


Greenplum’s fundamental breakthrough is its ability to store and process terabytes of data using clusters of low-cost servers. Greenplum’s solution moves processing power as close as possible to the data, so processing always occurs in parallel, delivering a dramatic boost in query and load performance. In addition, Greenplum Database's Dynamic Provisioning technology makes it easy to add incremental data warehouse capacity when needed, avoiding costly appliance upgrades.

Greenplum Database is groundbreaking because it utilizes a shared nothing, massively parallel processing architecture that has been designed for BI. Most of today’s general-purpose relational database management systems are designed for online transaction processing (OLTP) applications. By default, BI applications have inherited this less-than-optimal architecture. The reality is that BI workloads are fundamentally different from OLTP transaction workloads, and, therefore, require a profoundly different architecture. Greenplum Database could power the Daxpy BI application for blazing-fast analysis for Frontier’s revenue management needs.

Frontier also achieved several unexpected benefits that reduced our costs more than expected. An example was the ability to replace one of our other BI tools. The functionality of the Greenplum/Daxpy solution allowed us to accomplish the same analysis in less time.

Quantitative Results

Greenplum allowed us a very economical solution for a midsized airline. There are large amounts of parallelism in the system. We looked at a comparable but higher-end commercial system used by retailers, but it couldn’t compete with Greenplum’s price and performance. Greenplum was available at 20 to 30 times less cost than other lower-performing systems.

The business case for the Frontier Airlines project was based on achieving full payback within eighteen months. ROI for the project was above our expectations. They enjoyed a lower-cost solution with better support than would have been obtained with our previous Oracle solution.

A query that must access 800 million records will return a result in a few seconds or, at most, 15 seconds, not 20 minutes, giving business analysts at Frontier the ability to respond rapidly to competitors' offerings. Various alerts are built into the system to spot regions where sales are not living up to predicted levels, so business analysts can wade into the data to try to determine why. In the past, we discovered the “why” when it was already too late and the revenue was lost.

Qualitative Results

The IT division that supported Greenplum from the initial stages of the project probably benefited the most. It's their job to seek out these new technologies that can lower costs and optimize performance, and they achieved that goal. Certainly, the revenue management team benefited by the performance improvement of the application. The soft, intagible results are found when the finance organization benefits by the tremendous cost savings for the organization. In addition, all of the users throughout Frontier Airlines that rely on reports to figure out pricing information, marketing campaigns and sales tactics also benefit from the performance of the database running faster applications for improved imformation flow.

Frontier is an early adopter of new technologies. By having success with Greenplum and other new solutions, Frontier’s reputation as an innovator continues to grow and we are seen as a progressive industry leader. This is a soft, intangible benefit to our organization in many ways.


The competition is intense in the airline industry, and Frontier is committed to staying ahead of the curve by leveraging technology that will help us offer the best prices and the best flight experience. Greenplum’s Greenplum Database fits right in with our philosophy of providing world-class performance at a low price. Once Frontier saw firsthand how the performance of the Greenplum Database could scale and speed their analysis of their revenue management application, they began thinking ahead to how they could scale additional reports and forcasting in other areas within the organization. This led to discussions around Frontier’s efficientcies.

We have been impressed by its ability to quickly analyze massive amounts of flight data while running on low-cost, off-the-shelf hardware. When we need more capacity, we can buy more incrementally. We don’t have to replace our entire system or buy more than we need. This solution will grow as Frontier’s data and revenue performance needs grow to deliver long-term sustainable value.

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