I recently had the chance to communicate with Rob Jacks, Chief Information Technology Officer for the Commerce Division of the Chickasaw Nation. The Commerce Division uses Double Take's data protection software and was willing to speak about their experiences with the technology.
About Commerce Division of the Chickasaw Nation
The Commerce Division of the Chickasaw Nation operates 56 businesses including: entertainment venues, hotels, radio and newspaper properties, trading posts, travel plazas, restaurants and manufacturing facilities. Two of these businesses include Oklahoma’s largest and second largest gaming facilities; Riverwind Casino and WinStar Casinos.
- Riverwind Casino, located just south of Oklahoma City, OK, is offers more than 2,200 electronic games, 71 blackjack and poker tables and an off-track betting area 24/7.
- WinStar Casinos, located just north of the Oklahoma Texas border along I-35, offers 2,000 electronic games and 47 blackjack and poker tables. Both casinos present world-class entertainers and a wide-range of restaurants.
Net income from the Commerce Division provides essential and vital services such as health care, aging, youth and family, educational and transportation services to the people of the Chickasaw Nation.
Rob Jacks serves as Chief Information Technology Officer for the Commerce Division. This Department is charged with contributing to business revenues by creating in a technology-stable environment which guarantees an excellent experience for casino patrons and other Commerce customers.
What were you doing that required this technology?
The CNDC core competency is running casinos. Moreover, one of the underlying requirements for having a successful casino is that the slot machines, table games, Cages, money handlers have to work all the time. We have zero tolerance for down time. That is not to say that we do not have outages, but just that management has no tolerance for it.
Therefore, to give us the best chance at running a 100% up-time environment we elected to create a fully redundant, High Available environment. H/A, virtualization and Double-Take Software are an integral part of this vision. By virtualizing our servers I can have multiple instances of an application in a very dense data center. IBM Blades using VMware allow us to maximize our processing power and replicate our servers using the same square footage. By achieving a high degree of efficiencies and replication, I am maximizing my capital outlay.
What competitors did you evaluate before selecting this technology?
We have been running in a virtualized environment for over two years. When we chose to go virtual tied to a SAN we were on top of the wave. We felt that virtualization was our only option due to data center sizing constraints. I also realized that virtualization for Intel servers was about to be the standard. Mainframes and iSeries have had virtualization capabilities for years. The Intel gear just had to catch up.
Why was this technology selected over that offered by the other competitors?
Our organization has 16 casinos, 6000 employees, 10K plus slot machines and three data centers. IT keeps all this running with a staff of 50. When I select a technology, I am looking for stability, ability to execute, minimal internal FTE to run the technology and a vendor that is dedicated to a 24X7X365 support. We were able to find all this in the Double-Take and GeoCluster products from Double-Take Software. In addition, running in a virtual environment meets these requirements.
What tangible benefits has your organization gotten from the use of this technology?
100% uptime is a primary requirement to the success of our business. We have thousands of customers and millions of dollars flow through our casinos. If there are no games to play there will be no customers. Prior to implementing a replicated IT environment we were having outages on a daily bases. Customers would leave and not come back. Today, 24 months since we started rolling out our H/A vision with Double-Take Software, we do not have outages that impact the business.
Double Take Software and virtualization are the keys to our business continuance plan. We have the capability to change data center or servers, i.e. swap from source to target server in minutes. We have tested our recovery procedures and I confident that if our main data center was destroyed I could have our primary applications back on line at our back-up data center, and users working and customers gaming in hours not days or weeks.
We have perfected the use of virtualization to the point that servers can completely fail, the system will roll swap, and the users will never lose connectivity.
What advice would you offer others facing similar challenges?
First, communicate your plan repeatedly to users. Going from a server farm to virtualized blades and/or servers will have an impact on the users. Do not leave them in the dark. Secondly, this will not be cheap or quick technology change. Management must be clear about the cost and ROI. Some of these costs are soft cost and maybe hard to sell. Also, check with your application vendors. Some vendors will not support their application if it is running virtually.
Going virtual is a must for IT but doing it in conjunction with the needs of the business is what will make it be perceived as a successful IT initiative.
H/A is a business choice. Every business has different threshold of pain they are will to endure. The use of technology is a business choice not an IT mandate. Let the business tell IT what they want and how much to spend. Too many IT professionals end up cross ways with the business because they want to dazzle their users with this great and wonderful technology. Users do not care about technology they just want it to work!
My advice is to give the users options and cost and let them define what they want. Take on the attitude of a coach and a leader. Once the deliverable is defined, finding the technology is the easy part.