Cloud based hotel management– Interview with Keith Gruen
” Our customers have understood that their data is much safer in our secure and professionally-managed cloud environment than it was on the server in the basement of the hotel.”— Keith Gruen.
I heard of hetras, a German-Austrian company that created a cloud-based hotel management product for global hotel chains. I wanted to know more. I therefore interviewed Keith Gruen, co-founder and managing director of hetras GmbH.
Q1. What is the business of Hetras?
Keith Gruen: hetras is the first company to build a fully cloud-based application for hotels and global chains of all sizes. Particularly suited for the new generation of hotels with a high degree of automation, the hetras hotel management software combines property management system (PMS) with powerful distribution and channel management into a unified application.
The product is offered on a SaaS basis, meaning that hotels pay an all-inclusive flat fee per month per room. Built from the ground up for the internet generation, hetras offers a refreshing new user experience and users only need a tablet or browser with a standard internet connection.
Q2. What are the new generation of hotels? How do they differ from conventional ones?
Keith Gruen: New generation hotels and chains offer a high quality hotel experience in a prime location but at a budget price. They can achieve low prices through elimination of services such as full-service restaurant, room service, SPA, conference and banqueting, valet parking, porters and concierge. These hotels also save money by reducing or eliminating reservation and front desk staff. As a result, the hotels encourage or even require self-service by the guests, including self-reservation via the hotel website, self-check-in and self-checkout via kiosks or mobile apps and self-management of preferences and frequent guest programs. New generation hotels typically place a large focus on high design, top quality bedding, high-tech rooms and excellent showers. Rooms are generally small but stylish and efficient.
Q3. What are the specific data management requirements for these new generation of hotels?
Keith Gruen: New generation hotels have a high degree of automation requirements and integration with third party systems. Integration with online reservation portals such as booking.com and Expedia as well as GDS (global distribution systems) have to be seamless and always up-to-date. Credit card authorization and other payment systems have to work without any human intervention.
The check-in and check-out kiosks or apps have to be intuitive and fast. Revenue management, i.e. establishing rates, restrictions, policies has to be automatic and reliable. As guests are doing more and more of the work, the user experience has to be magnitudes better than any hotel system in the past.
Q4. You developed a Cloud-based Hotel Management System as an Internet-based software-as-a-service. Which hotels currently use your system and for what?
Keith Gruen: Our customers include several new generation hotel groups, such as citizenM (based in Amsterdam), OKKO (Paris), BLOC (UK) and ADDUCCO (Romania). In addition, a number of independent hotels around Europe also use hetras.
Q5. How do you handle data processing, sorting, storage and retrieval?
Q6. Could you be more specific and explain what are these “speed-critical functions” and why do you use an in-memory database for that?
Keith Gruen: Our most speed-critical functions are rate and availability look-ups.
Q7. Rate/availability lookups are complex queries, and demand high performance. Do you handle such queries in MS-SQL or with ExtremeDB?
Keith Gruen: ExtremeDB.
Q8. Most rate/reservation queries are not done by humans but by machines. How do you handle requests from global distribution systems (GDSs)- such as Sabre, Amadeus, Worldport and others-used across the travel industry to check rates and book reservations? What kind of data requirements do they have?
Keith Gruen: The GDS tend to query the hotel reservation systems via robots on a frequent basis. This keeps their cache up-to-date and they can then offer nearly real-time rates and availability to the travel agents and end-users who query their system. Checking if a hotel is available or not is not a single query. The GDS has to check every individual date and for every reasonable length of stay. Because of the peculiarities of the hotel business, a hotel might be sold out for a single-night’s stay on Monday night and Tuesday night, but a guest who wants to stay both nights may still be offered a room. Furthermore, the GDS have to query every different room type. Standard rooms could be sold out while a few deluxe rooms remain. The GDS, most of which are based on 1960s technology, are not capable to poll for changes. They simply query everything on a regular basis. All in all, GDSs are known to make up to 70,000 queries for every single confirmed reservation.
Q9. How did you design your system to achieve scalability (scale out and scale up)?
Keith Gruen: We use virtualized environments. So far, we have scaled up by adding RAM and CPU to our machines.
We have two fully redundant sets of hardware with a load balancer. We could add a third set if necessary.
Q10: Which virtualized environments do you use? Don`t you have performance issue if you use virtualization?
Keith Gruen: We use VMWare. Virtualization has not caused us any performance issues.
Q11. Why do you use an in-memory database system for your system and for what?
Keith Gruen: We use the In-Memory Database (IMDB) especially for the queries as described above. We call this our “quote” module. We do not write to the IMDB. When a reservation is finally completed, we write directly to the main MS-SQL database, which in turn updates the IMDB. The data in the IMDB is configured to answer the most common queries very quickly.
Q12. What are the potential bottlenecks for your system?
Keith Gruen: Hotel staff can theoretically launch batch processes or large-scale searches across vast amounts of data that would slow down the system for all other hotels as well. This is a drawback of having a single-instance multi-tenant architecture.
Q13. Are there any concerns by customers to have their personal data stored in the Cloud?
Keith Gruen: No. Our customers have understood that their data is much safer in our secure and professionally-managed cloud environment than it was on the server in the basement of the hotel.
Keith Gruen is a co-founder and managing director of hetras GmbH, a German-Austrian company that created the first cloud-based hotel management product for global hotel chains. Mr. Gruen is also the founder of Fidelio Software, which built the market-leading Hotel PMS in the 1980’s and 90’s. He later sold the company to Micros. Mr. Gruen co-founded NXN, a developer of computer game technology and Kappa IT, a venture capital firm that invested in technology startups. Prior to hetras, he led corporate development for Conject AG, a developer of software for the real estate and construction industry. Mr. Gruen graduated from Brown University in Mathematics and Computer Science.
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