Part 3: Architecting a Quality In-Flight Experience

If you’ve been following this series, you’ve already witnessed pride shared by every member of the Alaska Airlines In-Flight Experience product. The Ratio Way is not only the wings which lifted and carried this high-profile project to success, it is the fuel which propelled three out of the four of us to compose our very first Ratio blog post.

PART 1 – Innovation at 30,000 ft

PART 2 – Engineering for Quality – The “Ratio Way” 

PART 4 – Testing an In-Flight Entertainment Solution from the Ground Up

A Final Note from Microsoft


In this third part of the series, I hope to provide you with insights regarding the architectural planning and principles used at Ratio. Our approach resulted in the Alaska Airlines IFE program delivering a level of quality that is being praised by our partners, their customers, and the media.

Route Planning

Much like a check list consulted before piloting a commercial airliner, solution architecture is concerned with safety, comfort and efficiency throughout take-off, cruising speeds and arrival at final destination. Detailed navigational planning for direction, speed and altitude all factor into decisions made by a Ratio architect.


In part one of this series, Ted Mandelkorn described how Ratio brought together nearly a dozen partners at the right time for maximum product success. In today’s software applications and systems, it is common to have many stakeholders, each with their own investments in the final product (time, money, effort, and even reputation). Simply put, increasing the number of stakeholders for a project adds stress and influences complexity.

Building the Alaska Airlines IFE required optimizing a solution to meet the goals of all stakeholders involved, making the best use of all resources. Deep insights into business goals and all component technologies paired with disciplined consideration of all options is an absolute must for the modern solution architect. Delivery of a working solution is the primary objective. Last week, Paul Cullin described the IFE engineering challenges and requirements, each of which demanded solving as part of the whole to achieve 100% success for all partners.


Schedule and budget will always be a factor in the development of a new product. Anticipating and resolving technical challenges that exist further into the flight plan promotes peak efficiency and personally, is the most satisfying aspect of my role here at Ratio.


On most product efforts, I tend to cruise at a higher elevation than the rest of the engineering team, guiding technical decisions against the big picture rather than taking on discreet code or feature-development efforts.

Observations that I noted throughout this particular project journey include:

  • Every team member dedicated to their craft, each other and the success of every partner involved
  • Clear and guiding focus led by members of Ratio product strategy and management
  • Architectural and engineering decisions which embrace inevitable change
  • Commitment to deliver the right solution for each business partner
  • Individual and team ownership to provide only the highest level of quality in all deliverables

Performing as a Ground Crew Member

Despite my role as architect, I still relish opportunities to lose myself to writing code. I was thrilled with the opportunity when Paul asked me to design and build the data analysis features for this solution.

Maximizing the value of in-flight, entertainment content requires reliable and timely data insights, combining flight information with user-behavior. Our IFE analysis solution required instrumentation of all types of Windows 8.1 tablet applications, an intelligent semi-connected delivery service, and an elastic cloud-based service to process many thousands of micro events per second. Microsoft’s partnership with Ratio allowed us early access to its still-in-beta Azure Data Factory set of services. It was the perfect match to provide the transmission and processing pipeline necessary to measure program engagement goals wrapped in business-friendly Microsoft Excel tools.

Delivering Quality

Quality is a common theme running through the last 3 weeks of this series. A short visit with every member of the Alaska Airlines In-Flight Entertainment product team would further impress this upon you. No one carries the “Quality” flag higher than Mike Theiss, our next post contributor. My daily interactions with him during this effort continued to challenge and inspired me.

I’m looking forward to the next part of this series. Stay tuned…

PART 1 – Innovation at 30,000 ft

PART 2 – Engineering for Quality – The “Ratio Way” 

PART 4 – Testing an In-Flight Entertainment Solution from the Ground Up

A Final Note from Microsoft