Gaming Industry Doesn’t Gamble on Application Performance
December 03, 2012

Belinda Yung-Rubke

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The US gaming (gambling) industry is a $12B market according to Gaming and Leisure Magazine. We all know that these organizations create unprecedented experiences for guests, whether at a casino, hotel property, entertainment center, or online.

But to build and support this high-level of entertainment, gaming organizations have to deploy complex networks and systems that enable them to streamline internal operations, expand new services, and improve the overall user experience. Key to this process is network and application performance. Without it, operational efficiencies, productivity, profit, and consumer confidence can all be shattered.

To keep this from happening (or at least dramatically reduce the chance or impact), many gaming companies are leveraging application performance management (APM) solutions. It allows IT to monitor and manage the entire network footprint from a centralized location and proactively manage network and application performance to ensure internal stakeholders and guests (physical and online) are happy.

While gaming organizations share many of the same applications as other business, such as email, CRM, VoIP, etc., they also have many unique operations that give an interesting perspective on how performance degradation can impact business.

Let’s examine some of these unique functions:

Off-Track Betting
Many of today’s larger casinos have multiple venues throughout the country or world, and often integrate horse racing and other gaming facilities. With horseracing, in addition to onsite betting, off-track betting is available to anyone with access to the Internet. With each race, the goal is to accept as many bets as possible before close. Imagine the amount of data that has to be processed in real-time, in between races for bet placement, odds correlation and payout.

From a gambler’s perspective, any delay both in placing or collecting a bet is unacceptable and can lead to a loss of patronage. As a matter of fact, we’ve had customers that have observed people stepping out of line and leaving a betting line when systems start to lag.

Behind the scenes, supporting off-track betting is a mess of high performance servers running web services, applications and databases – a complicated, custom multi-tier application environment.

Also, this infrastructure has to support remote access from many locations and integrate data with onsite betting. This environment has to be managed proactively. Understanding normal response times and traffic levels is imperative to identifying any problems quickly.

In addition, having visibility of the application delivery infrastructure, which includes the data center server farm and the enterprise, is just as important to isolate performance problems.

Recently, a customer said, “things don’t break, they slow down,” which is detrimental to getting as many bets in before a race is closed. This IT organization finally invested in a unified application and network performance monitoring system that helps IT quickly see the cause and effect of performance problem, the impact of the network traffic on critical applications, and the response time of each tier of the multi-tier application. The information from the monitoring system made it easy for the team to break down the problem domain and assign ownership.

Game Cards and Credit Card Usage
As a part of the customer experience, casinos would do anything possible to streamline the playing process and incentivize the guest. This includes smart gaming machines that accept credit cards, cash machines on the floor, and player cards that track usage and reward the customers. These simple actions that take place in a casino are underpinned by sophisticated back-end systems that correlate information in real-time and allow the user to spend their money.

If a cash machine connection is slow, the user may not spend as much money. If a credit card is just randomly accepted on a slot machine, the house may be allowing someone with no credit to play (or to use a stolen card). If a guest has to wait 20 minutes to get a food comp validated, they’re less likely to come back to the same casino. All of these transactions rely on network and application performance.

Each request that comes in, has to be authenticated sometimes with a third party credit service. The approved request then has to be matched with account information retrieved from the database. Before approving credit, the account has to be updated before the user can take the necessary action.

While these steps can be optimized, the underlying applications may each be a multi-tier architecture which makes it extremely important to monitoring the performance to ensure smooth operation. Application performance management solutions allow IT to monitor that process and ensure the best end user experience is delivered. If end user experience starts to degrade, the solution can quickly isolate the domain for problem resolution.

Workforce Attendance Management Systems
Staffing is a huge part of the gaming world. From dealers, to pit staff, to wait staff, to security, to management, to cashiers and accounting, to operations, and more, when in a casino, employees are everywhere, cycling in and out like bees at work in a hive. It takes reliable HR and time tracking systems to ensure workloads and hours are processed correctly. From clocking in to generating payroll, these systems are all steeped in networked devices and applications. When they fail, the fallout can be big.

We recently had a customer that was running a time tracking solution that appeared to be malfunctioning. It was processing the wrong amount of clocked time from employees, resulting in underpaid wages. Immediately employees began to voice frustration and backlash ensued. When the time management vendor was approached, they asked the company to prove it wasn’t a network problem before they would assign resources to troubleshoot the problem.

Fortunately, this gaming company was using an APM solution and they were able to dig in and prove that network performance was not impacting the application. Once that information was presented to the vendor, a team was sent to troubleshoot and they found that a software update to the application was causing a problem with time synchronization. Had they not had an APM solution that could quickly prove that network and application performance was sound, it could have taken days or weeks to solve, instead of hours to isolate.

The gaming industry has unique applications that make APM critical to operational efficiency. It allows IT teams to collaborate more effectively, proactively manage performance of critical systems, and if problems do emerge, to identify domain fast so it can be fixed.

While not all businesses have off-track betting, all organizations do have critical applications that rely on network performance to deliver benefit to the business. APM continues to show that insight is a powerful tool.

Belinda Yung-Rubke is Director of Field Marketing for Visual Networks Systems.

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