Casino giant bets on EMC replication over optical

With a lockdown on the amount of fiber available on the Las Vegas strip, MGM Mirage deployed DWDM switches to perform remote replication.

Shut out of the ability to lease more dark fiber from its service provider, MGM Mirage -- the largest hotel and casino owner on the Las Vegas strip -- had to find an alternative way to extend its remote replication to a third site.

"There's only so much fiber in the ground, and tearing up the strip to lay more cable wasn't an option for us. Our economy runs on it out here and nobody can touch that fiber," said Laura Fucci, vice president and chief technology officer of MGM Mirage, which owns the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Treasure Island, New York New York, Boardwalk and The Mirage hotels.

One of Fucci's recent challenges was to find a way to hook up a third EMC Symmetrix array at one of its hotels to two other Symmetrix arrays at different locations. "We had an EMC SRDF (Symmetrix Remote Data Facility) link between two hotels, but this wasn't redundant enough," she said. The company purchased a third box, but then realized it only had enough fiber capacity for two of the three legs.

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With the stated mandated cap on laying dark fiber, MGM turned to dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM) switches from Ciena Corp. to split up the wavelengths on the fiber already installed, in order to push more data through it. The gaming company's architecture includes the DWDM switches sitting between MGM's existing Gigabit Ethernet and Brocade SilkWorm 12000 2 Gbps Fibre Channel Directors and the fiber optic cable extending to its third location. EMC's SRDF remote storage replication software runs synchronously between the sites.

"By triangulating our storage, should a disaster happen at our second site, we are still replicating to another location," Fucci said. One of the company's most critical applications is its players' club patron management system. This application manages all the players' credits as they are playing. A card is used to play slot machines, and as players win, the card earns credits that can be redeemed in any store or restaurant or casino within any of the company's hotels. Losing data would be a major problem for MGM. Imagine a guest walking up to the desk to cash out after a big night to find out the company has lost all the data on their winnings. No, thank you very much.

As well as extending its data replication service, MGM plans to converge other services on its network using the DWDM switches. Right now, its StorageTek Corp. tape libraries are on a separate SAN, but ideally it would like to back up directly to these tape systems. "We are starting to explore going from the Symm to the silo now that we have freed up the fiber," Fucci said. Another possibility is digitizing all its video surveillance cameras, which operate on tape today, and running this system over the fiber. And eventually, to add its voice network as well. Each application would be provisioned a different wavelength or strand on the same fiber optic cable. Before deploying the DWDM switches, MGM had two strands; now, it has 32.

Unfortunately, the cost of this approach may be more than most budgets allow, but for MGM it was a bet worth taking.

Other companies selling DWDM switches that support SAN protocols include ADVA Optical Networking, Cisco Systems Inc. and Nortel Networks Inc.

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