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Network infrastructure upgrade fuels faster casino cash transactions

Rachel Shuster, Associate Editor

Global Cash Access (GCA), a Las Vegas-based company that enables high-volume cash transactions in casinos, worked with its VAR to implement a network infrastructure upgrade using Cisco UCS in a hosted data center to ramp up speed and reliability.

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With two-thirds of all the cash gambled in the casinos being dispensed from GCA’s ATMs, and the company's provisioning of other crucial financial services—such as credit reports for cash advances—on demand, GCA and its clients couldn't afford network downtime. So Jim King, GCA's vice president of IT, partnered with Nexus IS and Switch Communications’ SuperNAP  data center for a network redesign that would mean compute and storage convergence.

“It’s important for us to have 100% uptime because if guests cannot take out cash from one of our machines, that puts a hurt in the revenue stream of a casino,” King said.

In a new data center design, King's team was seeking better cooling and more efficient power use. They also wanted speed and reliability for huge volumes of transactions from the casinos to the credit card processors and back.

GCA's previous data center and network technology—and its lack of convergence—didn't necessarily lend itself to growth. “We were using HP physical servers, Cisco routing and switching, Check Point firewalls, and storage that was either directly attached to the HP servers or built in hard drives. [We also] utilized a small Hitachi SAN for some centralized storage,” King said.

“We were filling the gap of going from a small organization with dated technology to a company that was on the cutting edge of equipment, hardware and infrastructure that would provide the latest and greatest in network, storage, virtualization and data center technology for our customers. From a technology standpoint, the gaps we were trying to fill were [for] future growth in bandwidth and network capability, and [we wanted] to take advantage of the new technologies that provided a more reliable and stable network,” King added.

Nexus IS kick-starts network infrastructure upgrade

When GCA realized that it would have to re-evaluate its enterprise network infrastructure in order to keep up with volume and energy efficiency needs, the company turned to integrator and Cisco partner Nexus IS, and Switch Communications’ SuperNAP data center, for a collocation space.

Nexus IS had already been working with GCA to help the company meet compliance mandates.

“We realized [there] was a lot more [to do] than just compliance. It was a ground-up relook at everything,” said Dave Elsner, vice president of sales and marketing with Nexus IS.

Nexus IS moved GCA from a 1 GbE backbone to a Cisco-based 10 GbE backbone with Nexus 7ks, and implemented Cisco's Unified Computing System along with technology from Cisco's VCE partnership with VMware and EMC for virtualization and SAN technology.

“You’ve taken the best of breed in virtualization, storage and network connectivity and married them together to provide a product that is truly scalable, reliable and secure for a company like us,” King said.

Implementing a complete integrated system in one space in the SuperNAP data center eased up management concerns.

“A lot of GCA’s in-house infrastructure and equipment had to be managed on an individual basis. Because of the new technology that Cisco has brought to the table with Nexus 7Ks and the ASAs, 5Ks, 2Ks—and the optimized Cisco UCS and MDS—that has allowed us to monitor, configure and maintain a lot of this network equipment from one management console, desktop and location,” King said.

Why move a network infrastructure upgrade to a hosted data center?

Moving the whole operation to Switch Communications' SuperNAP data center made sense because the facility was already energy efficient and provided options for disaster recovery and outside connectivity.

In fact, the SuperNAP data center has 30 to 40 different carriers coming into one location, which helps GCA get the best pricing for connectivity anywhere in the world. What's more, GCA has worked with Nexus IS and Switch to ensure a backup and recovery strategy.

“The way the data center is built at Switch, and the way we have our cage set up, it would literally take an act of terrorism for us to go down there. So we built redundancy into our cage with the idea that Switch is not going down. If there was a catastrophic event at Switch, then we have it all duplicated at our secondary location,” King said.

“In the event that we have some type of failure in our data center, or at Switch, we can failover our virtuals in another data center, which is a mirrored environment of what we have in the primary,” King said.

Network infrastructure upgrade: The next phases

GCA already had virtualization running before the network infrastructure upgrade, but it wasn’t able to take advantage of all the high availability and redundancy that it is able to now. With these managed data center services in place, GCA is now working towards virtualizing even more of its physical servers, which will allow it to become greener and more mobile.

“Going from a physical server platform and converting a portion of that to virtual, we are using less of a footprint in our data center, take less power and less cooling. At the same time, [virtualization] provides greater protection and availability. The ability to rebuild a virtual machine or bring up another virtual machine that’s duplicated in another data center only takes a couple minutes. So it provides extreme high availability,” King said.

GCA’s goal is to virtualize 65% of its data center. The servers that will remain physical are legacy and can’t be virtualized, or they are ones that may have some compliance issues.

Next up, Nexus IS will begin to build on top of the network infrastructure upgrade it has already designed and installed for GCA.

“This year we did a whole network upgrade,” King said. “Next year we are going to build on top of that platform and add Cisco’s VoIP system, which will really help to drive business.”


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