Cruise company Carnival Corporation is deploying a range of Microsoft Azure cloud technologies to extend its cloud computing capabilities to ships across its fleet.
The company, which owns and operates nine separate cruise line brands, is deploying Microsoft Azure edge technologies onboard three of its ships. Two of these, Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit, are expeditions ships operating under the Seabourn brand which visit remote regions such as Antarctica. The third ship, Costa Toscana, sails for the Costa Cruises brand throughout the Mediterranean.
The trio of ships represent the beginning of a fleetwide standardisation programme. Each of Carnival’s nine cruise line brands has previously operated its own, unique technology infrastructure.
“Today, it’s all fragmented,” says Andy Paul, senior director of maritime innovation at Carnival Corporation. “But this approach offers us the chance to do it all through one environment. Having that standardised way of deploying the architecture will be very valuable in terms of having consistent service, consistent maintenance, consistent cybersecurity and patching all being done in the same way.”
The technologies installed onboard the three ships include Azure Stack HCI, a combination of hardware and software that connects the Azure cloud to physical locations. Azure Arc, meanwhile, is enabling guests and crew to use data that that generate on the edge.
These technologies enable the ships to better adjust to challenges with weather, scheduling or navigation to ensure they reach destinations on time. They will also help to provide improved connectivity speeds for guests, which are particularly important for the younger demographic of travellers.
“They [the guests] don’t want to give up anything on the tech side when they’re on our ships,” says Andy Paul, senior director of maritime innovation at Carnival Corporation. “Making these investments gives us the platform to do that. If we do it generically across all our fleet, it gives us a strong base to standardise and enhance our tech offering so we may continue delivering extraordinary cruise vacations to our millions of happy guests.”
A further benefit for Carnival will be an improvement in the flexibility of its crew training programmes. The new, standardised infrastructure will enable crew members to start their training on one ship and, if necessary, complete it onboard another vessel, rather than starting over again from the beginning. The access to real-time data that the cloud provides will also allow Carnival Corporation to better manage the rotation of its 100,000-strong onboard crew, two thirds of which is on duty at any one time.
“We also must make sure crew members’ leave and pay is taken care of,” says Paul. “Today, there’s an awful lot of manual processes around reconciling those. Just being able to have a standardised architecture across the whole organisation will be very useful for us.”
Ship tracking and navigation will also be improved as Carnival begins to make use of the 10 million separate pieces of data its fleet generates daily. Currently, the company relies on its Neptune software application for capturing and analysing data spanning navigation, radar, location, and speed, as well as engine conditions, emissions, fuel and energy usage, and water management.
It will now upgrade Neptune with Azure IoT Edge, which extends data analytics from the cloud to IoT devices. Real-time data signals from the ships then get reported to Neptune. This will enable Carnival’s fleet operation centres to display each vessel on a global map while simultaneously tracking and analysing aspects of onboard performance, including environmental systems.
This will enable exhaust gas cleaning systems, which remove sulphur oxides from gases produced by the ship’s engine and boiler, to be activated automatically at correct times.
“We have very strict rules about when and where we must use those systems to reduce sulphur,” says Paul. “Neptune has built-in geofences (virtual geographic boundaries), and today we can get that data to help meet emissions regulations.”
According to Douglas Phillips, corporate vice president of the Azure Edge and Platform organisation at Microsoft, Carnival’s move towards standardisation is indicative of a trend across all industries.
“Customers want to use one common fabric,” says Douglas Phillips, corporate vice president of the Azure Edge and Platform organisation at Microsoft. “Every industry has the same challenge today, and Carnival Corporation is just a unique version.”
“You’ve got a globally distributed organisation with endpoints out in the world – in this case, the endpoints are ships that are constantly moving and the people onboard with their devices,” he continues. “But the data the company wants to see isn’t on any one of those endpoints. It’s the total sum. It’s about enabling a global organisation to make local decisions.”
For Paul, these technologies, while largely invisible to guests, represent a new and significant advance for the company.
“This is the brave new world,” he concludes.