10G Ethernet powers glitzy Vegas resort

It uses a 700-switch, 10G Ethernet infrastructure split into 98 virtual LANs

The $1.5 billion Venetian resort in Las Vegas is a city within a city.

It boasts 7,000 guest rooms in three towers, a 120,000-square-foot casino, waterways, gondolas, frescoes, a convention center, retail shops, a bank, 18 world-class restaurants, its own police force -- even a TV station. (See slideshow of the network behind the Venetian resort.)

Throw in 4,000 cameras -- 1,200 for security and surveillance -- wireless hot spots, and back-office operations such as inventory control and purchasing, and it's a tall order for any network to handle. But a 700-switch, 10G Ethernet infrastructure split into 98 virtual LANs is keeping up just fine, according to the resort's IT staff.

The network is running the Venetian's entire business -- casino, convention center, retail, multiple restaurants, voice over IP (VoIP) and guest services operations, including registration and checkout, cable TV, and wired and wireless Internet access. Despite this heavy lifting, the network is not overly sophisticated. It's been in place since the resort was constructed 10 years ago and was selected based on its simplified operation and management.

"Our [network] is straightforward, easy to manage and requires minimal support," said Steve Vollmer, vice president of information technology and chief technology officer at Las Vegas Sands Corp. "We estimate [it] helps us save 10 to 15 seconds during guest check-in and checkout, which translates to a savings of nearly 30 hours a day just in one department."

Switch setup

The 10G Ethernet core of the Venetian network is made up of HP ProCurve 8200 and 5400 series switches. Five 8200s are configured in a simple mesh in one of the resort's towers to provide path resiliency and redundancy.

"It will take a full hit anywhere and it just keeps on marching," Vollmer said of the network core.

Four 5400s make up a smaller core in the newest Venetian tower, the Palazzo. The Palazzo alone has 3,000 guest rooms. The core is running at 20% utilization, Vollmer said.

The core switches take in Gigabit Ethernet links from HP ProCurve 4000 switches aggregating 100Mbit/sec. Ethernet feeds from ProCurve 3500 switches in the wiring closets. The 3500s, meanwhile, are providing 100Mbit/sec. bandwidth to 4,000 slot machines on the casino floor, guest registration systems, point-of-sale systems in restaurants and retail stores, ATMs, digital video signage and cameras, guest rooms, lobby music, VoIP handsets and switches, and virtually everything to do with resort operations.

In all, the converged network supports 65,000 devices -- including 180 virtual servers, 7,000 printers and 14,000 Teleadapt devices in guest rooms that provide wired Ethernet and IEEE 802.11b wireless Internet access.

The 98 VLANs are configured according to the application: The front desk windows are all on different VLANs, and there are separate VLANs for VoIP, cameras, signs, Internet access by floor, point-of-sale, cage operations and so on. The network employs IEEE 802.1p and q to provide quality-of-service based on applications and traffic type.

Surveillance and security cameras are physically segmented on their own switched Ethernet network, Vollmer said.

Questioning VoIP, wireless

Only 2,000 of the resort's more than 20,000 phones are VoIP, Vollmer said, and they and the wireless access points are all connected to the switches using Power over Ethernet. The Venetian is still kicking the tires with VoIP, looking for that elusive benefit that will justify the cost -- $125 per IP phone vs. $20 or less for a traditional TDM phone.

"It's hard to justify VoIP in the rooms," he said. "We're waiting for that killer app."

Likewise, wireless is appropriate for some applications but not others. In addition to 802.11b in every room for Internet access, the Venetian has 802.11g on the resort's main floor to help support front desk and casino operations.

The Venetian tried deploying portable "roll-a-desks" that can be moved to different locations to expedite large group check-in or checkout. But they proved inefficient and cumbersome compared with just opening up another window at the registration desk, Vollmer said.

"Wireless is disappointing to us," Vollmer said of the portable desk experience. "What do you do with it?"

Security considerations

The switches are integrated with virus protection but they can also detect suspicious guest activity. The Venetian recently hosted a Defcon hacker conference and the network thwarted attempts by conference attendees to infiltrate the Venetian network.

The resort also hosted a conference of companies in the adult entertainment industry and had to deflect attempts by some attendees to send out spam from their guest rooms.

"They're more of a pain in the [backside] than Defcon," Vollmer said of the adult entertainment attendees.

In both cases, the Venetian network alerted Vollmer and other IT officials to unusually high bandwidth usage. Then the Venetian's ISP noted a slew of hits against its DNS servers coming from the resort. The ISP then handed over the IP addresses of the perpetrators to the Venetian and the room-to-room roundup began.

The next steps for the Venetian are to install a fifth HP ProCurve 5400 switch to strengthen its DMZ zones, and provide redundancy and load balancing. The resort plans to install two more ProCurve 3500s to replace a Cisco 7206 router for part of the DMZ.

The router was a single point of breakdown, Vollmer said.

The Venetian may also replace the ProCurve 4000 series switches that have been in place for 10 years with 5400s. The replacement has more to do with keeping the network up to date than it does with the older switch wearing out.

"They don't break," Vollmer said, jokingly adding, "it's flawed because we can't get nothing new."

The only hiccups in the last decade were loops that would occur when new offices were added to the network.

"Only outages we ever had were moments of interruption," Vollmer said. "Our biggest fear is a loopback."

The deployment here is being mirrored in Macao, where Sands just opened up the Venetian Macao. The ProCurve switches in that network outnumber those in the Las Vegas resort.

But rather than disclose how much Sands invested in the two networks, Vollmer prefers to discuss payback. He expects the Macao network to save him $5 million in five years.

"It's a TCO thing," Vollmer said. "They gotta be able to do the job. We're past the reliability [requirement]. We'll look at it in five years."

This story, "10G Ethernet powers glitzy Vegas resort" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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