Executive interview: Rajesh Naidu, Expedia

The career of Rajesh Naidu, chief architect and head of data management and data governance at Expedia Group, mirrors the way the pendulum of IT architecture has swung from packaged applications to data centricity. Looking at the trends in enterprise architecture, he says: “Enterprise architecture has definitely had its share of being in vogue and out of favour.” But, as Naidu points out, when architecture becomes an ivory tower, it can become obsolete.

“When ERP [enterprise resource planning] and packaged applications were dominant, it was all about integration and standardisation,” he says. “But with the advent of the cloud, DevOps and other new paradigms, IT architecture is all about getting the foundation and the design right.”

For Naidu, events like the pandemic test an IT leader’s ability to design and build systems that are resilient and available all the time. He believes IT architecture has changed to become more focused around identifying what is core to the organisation. The age-old ‘build versus buy’ debate is a major part of the conversation across the organisation as business leaders assess the core competency of the business. He says this debate in IT is about “where do you want to build core differentiating applications versus where you can buy applications”, and believes those off-the-shelf packages are there to supplement the core in-house system by adding context.

Naidu joined Expedia towards the end of the pandemic. He previously worked at Starbucks for almost a decade. Beyond the virtual interview process, Naidu says: “Making the switch from an old company to a new company during the pandemic was daunting at times, because you are leaving a known culture and a known surrounding with individuals you worked with.”

The travel sector suffered significantly during the pandemic, and as Naidu notes, the industry needed to reinvent itself, ready for when the surge in post-pandemic travel would resume. “I looked at it as a challenge to be at the forefront of travel, which is an industry which certainly looked like it was going to be the first to rebound after the pandemic,” he says.

The IT architecture at Expedia has needed to evolve as the business has grown. “Expedia is no longer the online travel agency that we built 25 years ago,” says Naidu. “We are powering travel through our brands. We have over 168 million loyalty members and over 50,000 business-to-business partners.” It now needs to manage bookings across more than three million properties and more than 500 airlines, car rentals and cruise lines. “This is a pretty big scale in terms of the partners,” he adds.

In addition, Naidu says the platform needs to process 600 billion artificial intelligence (AI) predictions a year. “We have over 70 petabytes of data, and in some cases we are using AI and ML [machine learning] to evaluate 360,000 permutations on a single web page.”

From an IT architecture perspective, Naidu says the challenge for Expedia is to provide an architecture that uses building blocks that scale easily and meet the need to remove complexity from its current platform, which has grown organically through company acquisitions. “We are migrating towards a common platform strategy that consolidates applications while driving efficiency, improving developer experience and reducing the platform costs,” he says.

This involves making use of public cloud services to provide scale, resiliency and the ability to scale up and down as needed. From an enterprise application perspective, he says Expedia is in the process of moving 9,000 applications. “We are focusing on a combination of people process and technology,” he says. “We have the right training for our people, to make this transition to the cloud.”

Naidu says Expedia has also set up an Architecture Guild, which brings together all the IT architects in the business to help them understand the current technology footprint, what the future system should look like, and share problems and common architecture and design patterns.

Unlike a centre of excellence, Naidu says the Architecture Guild is focused on bringing the practitioners of the architecture together, building best practices, along with doing the actual work of designing the system.

“It’s not just about putting policies and white papers out there and having teams go off and try to figure it out for themselves,” he says. “This is actually about working closely with the teams designing systems. We certainly want to avoid being an ivory tower. We want to be pragmatic. There’s going to be moments when we provide a centre of excellence for expertise, but in many other cases, we are actually doing the hands-on design work with the teams.”

The common goal in Expedia’s IT architecture, says Naidu, is to build what he describes as one of the “largest Kubernetes migrations in history”.

Where it makes sense, Expedia will be containerising its workloads and moving them to a Kubernetes cluster. It will also be using AWS EC2 instances. Some application functionality will be provided as services hosted in the public cloud, while others may be available through software as a service, which requires integration with Expedia’s enterprise architecture. By making use of public cloud paradigms and refactoring applications where necessary, Naidu says Expedia will be able to develop new software functionality much faster than before.

Listen to the Computer Weekly Downtime Upload podcast with Rajesh Naidu >>

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