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

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The gambling outcomes on a slot machine are determined by algorithms that generate millions of random numeric combinations, and those algorithms, which determine whether you win or lose or feel either lucky or stupid, are maintained on the slot machine slot machine itself, not on a server, said Vollmer.

A slot machine is essentially a PC that runs a "very hardened Unix-type code, depending on the manufacturer," he added.

Gambling is a highly regulated business, of course, and those regulations extend to the data center and cover how server data is accessed. The regulations vary from state to state and country to country, so companies like Sands have to be licensed by multiple government gambling authorities.

The Sands IT environment is also similar to those of other large corporate environments in that it features technologies from a number of vendors.

Like many other casinos, Sands uses IBM System i servers because many core systems used in the gaming industry are written in IBM's RPG programming language. System i runs financials, inventory and purchasing, among other systems.

HP networking equipment is used throughout the Sands chain while various properties have Windows-based environments that run on servers made by Dell, HP and IBM. There are also some Unix systems, but not many.

"Ocean's Eleven is exaggerated," said Vollmer, at the start of the tour, perhaps to dampen expectations.

One of the questions put to Vollmer concerned the technology behind a fairly sophisticated penny slot machine with a large display showing fish hooks and fish with prize money. One person in the group had won about $7 using the machine. Hearing that, Vollmer smiled and delivered the eternal Vegas truth: "We'll get it back."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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