American Airlines, Kubernetes: Jason MacZura shares Oracle CloudWorld 2023 preview

August 1, 2023 | 6 minute read
Brian Wood
Principal Competitive Intelligence Analyst
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Today, we’re featuring Jason MacZura from American Airlines, one of the technology experts and IT leaders, who is speaking at the upcoming Oracle CloudWorld event September 18–21 in Las Vegas. 

Read this short Q&A to get to know Jason and to get a sense of what you can expect from his talk, “Reaching Cruising Altitude: American Airlines’ Kubernetes Modernization Journey” [LRN3824] and the panel session in which Jason is participating, “Kubernetes for ISV, SaaS: American Airlines, Informatica, GoTo Share Their Story” [PAN3795].

Jason MacZura of American Airlines

Q1: Your origin story: Tell us a little about yourself, your career path, and your role in the company.

Jason: My journey with American Airlines began long before I joined the company. As a recent college graduate working in Ernst & Young’s management consulting group, I enrolled in the AAdvantage program on my first day of onboarding with E&Y. For the next 12 years, I flew weekly to client sites based in Orlando, St. Louis, Chicago, Newark, Houston, and Tokyo, eventually building up 1.7 million miles with American Airlines. I loved both the technology and people sides of delivering solutions for business users. Eventually, a growing family at home meant I needed to find a job where travel was the exception, not the norm… and ironically, joining an airline gave me that opportunity.

I started with American Airlines in 2011 as an application architect in the Loyalty Technology group. American was embarking on a complex project to migrate their loyalty program from a mainframe system to midrange, and I used my experience implementing Oracle’s Siebel Customer Relationship Management (CRM) as a consultant to assist with the migration. My career at American Airlines has allowed me to support Loyalty in different roles as a technical contributor and as a leader, where I am currently a senior technical delivery manager for our Loyalty Platform. Our team supports applications across multiple cloud providers, ensuring that they’re secure, highly available, and lead the way with enterprise standards.

Q2: You’ve been leading digital transformation and modernization initiatives for a while, in very complex, demanding organizations. Looking back at your career, what are some of the challenges (organizational, business, and technical) that you encountered with modernization initiatives?

Jason: In late 2018, we started our digital transformation by creating a tenancy in Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) and iterating through multiple proofs of technology, first proving out that our on-premises applications could not only run functionally, but also run workloads as fast or even faster in OCI. Shortly after that, a core group of infrastructure team members (led by our brilliant technical delivery manager, Vijay Krishnaswamy) began learning the fundamentals of Kubernetes and related open source software. Despite their team having success migrating their applications into OCI in 2020 and then redeploying their applications into Kubernetes a year later, we faced a larger challenge with the team supporting Ventana, the core application that supports the AAdvantage program. The stakes were huge: Ventana is one of American Airlines’ most important applications. Additionally, the team supporting it had not been directly involved in the journey forged by the other group.

When we merged both teams into one organization, encouraged team members to learn from and teach each other, and demonstrated sustained leadership support, we emerged with a crossfunctional team who achieved multiple certifications in both OCI and Kubernetes. They were then equipped with the skills, confidence, and support to move Ventana into not just OCI, but also Oracle Container Engine for Kubernetes (OKE) in one go.

Now that we’ve been running applications in OCI for more than 18 months, our biggest challenge is security. Although our application and network topology are designed with the highest security standards, applications running in Kubernetes simply require more vigilance to remediate vulnerabilities. We use dozens of security tools to analyze everything from the application code to third-party packages within the image to the OS libraries within the container, and files running on the OKE Nodes themselves. Thank goodness that automation enabled by capable open source tools are available to ensure that our frequent updates to the OS and to images are performed reliably with little-to-no downtime.

Q3: Any aha moments or key learnings you want to share with other leaders going through a similar journey? Anything you’ve learned that surprised you?

Jason: Looking back over the past few years, I’ve realized that embarking on a digital transformation doesn’t necessarily mean having to stop everything your business wants to deliver while you rewrite a complex application from the ground up. We could have easily said, “Move our application to the cloud? In Kubernetes? Oh, those are for lightweight stateless applications made with the cloud in mind. Sure, we’ll move to that architecture—after we completely rewrite our legacy application first!” And if we took that approach, not only would we be at least another two years away, we wouldn’t have been able to support the strategic changes introduced by our business stakeholders in the meantime. Since moving Ventana to OCI and OKE last year, the AAdvantage program has transformed from a Frequent Flyer Loyalty program to a Travel Rewards program. Migrating to OCI in an agile Kubernetes architecture that scales at the speed of our business has been a foundational enabler of the business’ transformation, too.

Q4: What has led you to modernize with Kubernetes for your specific app and use case? Can you share some of the benefits you’ve seen already?

Jason: We saw early in our cloud journey that the benefits of the cloud and Kubernetes aren’t exclusively the domain of cloud native applications. Open source Kubernetes technologies, such as Rancher, Prometheus and Grafana, give us proactive insight into the health and utilization of our resources like never before. As I’ll discuss in my session, simply moving to the cloud doesn’t result in cost savings. The cloud allows us to be cost-efficient, and running our applications in Kubernetes enables much of that efficiency by running more servers within a similarly sized node. We’ve since rationalized our resource allocations, reducing our compute spend by over 30%, and we have more savings to capture.

In addition to cost savings, the automation capabilities for deploying upgrades to the OS and the applications are just amazing. I’ve watched my team perform controlled no-downtime upgrades of our legacy application by simply deleting a pod. Kubernetes restarts the pod immediately, and it starts up with the latest version of the image. This capability has reduced our upgrade process by half… and that means we all get to bed much sooner!

Q5: What can we expect from your upcoming session at the conference, “Reaching Cruising Altitude: American Airlines’ Kubernetes Modernization Journey” [LRN3824]?

Jason: As a follow-up to last year’s sessions about our cloud transformation journey, I’m excited to share the rest of the story with our audience. Our session’s title is prefaced with “Reaching Cruising Altitude” because now that we’re literally and figuratively in the “clouds,” how has our experience been in OCI since going live over a year ago? Where are we headed? Many opportunities for optimization exist around the usual areas of cost, deployment, and alerting, but what about opportunities to deliver new business value? For example, my colleague, Dinesh Pabolu, technical lead, is sharing some exciting progress that we’ve made, integrating our legacy applications with Oracle AI services. We hope that our session prompts more dialog with Oracle customers to share their experience and lessons learned with us.

We hope to see you there!

Oracle CloudWorld is a wonderful opportunity to learn, share, meet, and play. Join us to discover the latest on Kubernetes and other cloud native technologies and how customers like Jason MacZura at American Airlines are putting Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Container Engine for Kubernetes to work.

If you haven’t already registered to attend the event, register now. For more Kubernetes, containers, and cloud native sessions, see the conference agenda.

Brian Wood

Principal Competitive Intelligence Analyst

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