Wagering On A Secure, Clustered Data Solution

When Penn National Gaming needed a SAN to keep its data secure and available on a Mississippi riverboat casino, they called in storage solution provider Eagle Software, Salinas, Kan. Solution provider David Hiechel, president of Eagle Software, recently spoke with features writer Jennifer Lawinski about how He utilized SAN technology from Xiotech, an Eden Prairie, Minn.-based storage vendor, to meet the unique needs of a floating data system.

CRN: What was the problem that Penn National Gaming was looking to solve when they contacted you?

HIECHEL: The original problem was they needed to have more redundant systems to manage their gaming applications, so to do that, they wanted to implement Windows clustering and needed a back-end storage device to complete the infrastructure of the cluster.

CRN: What was your solution, and why did you choose it?

HIECHEL: We recommended a Xiotech Magnitude 3D 1000s. We chose that solution because it also was a clustered SAN technology, meaning that it had redundant controllers and redundant power supplies. It was a five nines storage device. That means that 99.999 percent of the time, that system is up. We also chose Xiotech because it was easy to manage and would reduce the amount of time that [Penn’s] systems administrator would have to spend administering the SAN. That was important to them and important to us as the solution provider.

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They are a casino operation that maintains their operation on the river, and they wanted half of their SAN on the boat and half on shore, so if one side failed, like if the boat sank, they could maintain their data integrity.

CRN: And the cost?

HIECHEL: The approximate cost for the SAN was about $100,000 to $120,000. We sold seven SANs in total, and they varied in price based on configuration.

CRN: What were some of the challenges you experienced in implementing this project?

HIECHEL: Definitely one of the challenges was that it is a unique situation to split a SAN into two separate geographic locations. Putting half of the SAN on the boat and half on shore was quite a task. And making sure we educated the customer. We spent a lot of time on the design and development of that portion of the project.

CRN: What did this project teach you?

HIECHEL: This project also had a unique requirement inasmuch as the gaming commission wouldn’t allow Penn Gaming to load just any application onto their gaming servers. That’s where the uniqueness came in. We decided to leverage the SAN for data protection. As a VAR, we produced some scripting that allowed us to automate the mirroring of production data and then the assigning of that production data to a dedicated backup server to back it up offline.

The customer received three benefits from that. First, there was zero footprint on the production server. We didn’t load anything on the production server, and that met the gaming requirements. The second benefit was we offloaded the backup responsibilities to a second server, so the production servers were not burdened with backup responsibilities. The third benefit they received is that the mirrored copy we made of the production data is held offline in limbo for 22 hours and can be used if the production disk fails. We can just point to that mirror if the system fails. Minutes and hours in the casino business can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars. This was our first project of this type, and now we’ve rolled this same technology of offloading the backups to another server at five other sites.

CRN: What are the main benefits for customers that buy from a solution provider as opposed to buying from retail or through a vendor?

HIECHEL: What Penn realized was that they could have gone to Xiotech directly and purchased a SAN to support their clustered environment, but what they wouldn’t have gotten from a direct purchase was the scripting. Xiotech doesn’t do that kind of personal service, nor do most vendors. They gained the benefit of the integration that they couldn’t have realized with a direct buy. We also were able to pull in multiple products. We brought in CommVault’s Galaxy backup software. We brought that in to manage the overall backup process. By going through a VAR they were able to bring multiple products to the table to solve a single problem.

Penn realized a much more reliable system at a much more reasonable cost.