The surprising secret of a Las Vegas data center: No glitz

But the ordinary-looking data center must do some extraordinary work to keep the casino going

LAS VEGAS -- During a first visit to the data center of a Las Vegas casino, one might expect to see an Ocean's Eleven-type environment -- corridors lit up with glowing, mysterious lights and hushed, gleaming spaces stuffed with sophisticated sensors capable of detecting an intruder's pulse rate.

Surely there must be a pressurized dual-door system with ultra-high-tech vapor locks and man traps watched over by guys wearing sunglasses and conveying a hint of menace.

But in the case of Las Vegas Sands Corp., visitors get the unexpected perspective of Steve Vollmer. The chief technology officer and vice president of IT at Sands, Vollmer is an affable, engaging guy who is quick to dash down images of movie-inspired Vegas glitz in his IT operation.

It's just "another data center," Vollmer said as we stepped through the relatively ordinary metal door of the data center that runs The Venetian resort and casino, which is owned by Sands. The data center is one of two housed at the Sands complex.

The Venetian operation, probably indistinguishable from any data center at a similar size company, can act either as a primary or secondary facility in the event of a fail-over. There are rows of servers on a raised floor, and one hears the vacuum cleaner-type noise created by air-handling systems that is pervasive in any data center.

This Venetian IT facility may follow a standard corporate model, but what's done here isn't ordinary.

Part of the business is, of course, gambling. That's why there were questions about how the data center interacts with slot machines at a press tour organized by Hewlett-Packard Co. during its big IT conference here this week.

Like many businesses, Sands is moving its worldwide operations to IP for everything connected to a network -- telephones, televisions and even slots. A new Sands facility will be completely IP-based.

What's the advantage to having slots on IP?

It's the speed of transaction, said Vollmer, and there are potentially a lot of transactions. Every action on a slot machine is recorded, producing a small amount of data that is sent to the server. "We know exactly what's in that slot machine right now," Vollmer said.

Steve Vollmer
Las Vegas Sands Corp. CIO Steve Vollmer shows off the Venetian's data center.
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