Casinos Eye Storage Challenges

Casinos take no chances in keeping an eye on gamblers, but storage is another matter

March 29, 2008

8 Min Read
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When walking into a casino, most people think about how much money theyll lose at the roulette tables and where they can find the nearest cocktail waitress to quench their thirst. But when casino managers and security officials walk into a casino, one of their major concerns is surveillance and data storage.

Surveillance has become top priority on a daily basis for most casinos, and as most organizations are quickly realizing, watching people all day takes up storage space. Even worse, many casinos are forced to store data for a certain amount of time by federal and state regulations, so keeping that data can become an even greater headache.

Unfortunately, many casinos are woefully behind in adapting to the changing storage environment and simply don’t do all they can to ensure all of their storage needs are met.

“Most of the casinos do not adapt to storage trends at all,” writes Scott Bartlett, the original founder and CEO of Southwest Surveillance Systems, which specializes in casino surveillance, in an email. “The gaming vertical is very unique and very slow to adapt to technology. Casinos are, in my opinion, running about six to eight years behind the IT business vertical.”

Ironically, casinos are storing lots more data than other kinds of businesses. Bartlett was amazed to hear that one major data center in North America houses less data than the average casino.“I was told that the largest data center in North America has approximately 250 Terabytes of storage,” Bartlett wrote. “This fascinated me because that is the equivalent of a small casino. Typically our casinos require anywhere from 150 Terabytes of storage to well over a Petabyte.”

To make matters worse, casinos are not nearly as sophisticated in the techniques they use to store data. Many employ RAID to ensure the safekeeping of data, but experts suggest the techniques currently being employed are not sufficient.

Federal regulations abound

While casinos are woefully behind in storage and there is very little movement on their part to do something about it, storage and regulatory requirements continue to rise. In fact, most states require that casinos keep surveillance data for at least seven days, but it can easily run up to 30 days depending on the location of the casino.

The Chumash Casino Resort in the Santa Ynez Valley on California's Central Coast, for instance, has 2,000 slot machines and 44 table games, along with bingo and poker. And although it may not be the largest casino in the world, it’s required by law to store its data for at least one week.

“Federal regulations presently require a minimum of 7 days of video storage over all areas of the gaming floor. Our system stores from a minimum of 14 to 30 days of video storage,” writes Mark Meske, director of regulatory compliance and surveillance at the Chumash Casino Resort, in an email. “Storage is a Minimum Internal Control Standards (MICS) requirement regulated by Federal and State Gaming laws. On a practical level, it provides safeguards and video access to not only monitor the flow of money but also identify both criminal and regulatory violations.”Next Page: 2

Lack of storage sophistication
A general lack of care is exemplified in the current state of casino infrastructure. Casinos are simply not adapting to the changing times, and individuals charged with ensuring casinos are responding to regulatory concerns are not living up to the task, according to Bartlett.

Many casinos are still using less than optimal storage techniques to comply with regulators, he says. Just a few are realizing that RAID 1, RAID 5, or RAID 6 may not be sufficient to protect surveillance data, and Bartlett's company is using systems from the likes of Pivot3 to install NAS with clustered storage in casinos that need more data protection.

Ironically, many more casinos may be forced into change not only by regulators, but by technology itself.

Mega-pixel surveillance technology, which helps security cameras track patrons in a far more advanced way, is in line to help casinos keep better records. That said, its high cost has limited adoption so far, though many casinos are looking at upgrading. As they do, storage will become an even greater concern.“Our surveillance system is upgrading to high definition mega-pixel cameras covering our money-handling areas, which require vast amounts of video storage capability,” Meske of the Chumash Casino Resort points out. “Megapixel cameras provide six-to-seven times the resolution of our current analog and digital cameras, but require that much more storage capacity.”

The exec measures this growth by referring to the Common Intermediate Format (CIF) rating used for pixel-based video, something which is growing at a rapid rate at Chumash. “With over 1,100 cameras and support equipment set for 14 to 30 days' storage at 2 to 4 CIF (gaming areas are all 4CIF) and 30 frames per second (FPS), the storage requirement is massive -- well beyond gigabytes and terabytes, approaching Pbyte levels.”

Meske's experience is likely to be duplicated at other casinos. According to Southwest Surveillance Systems's Bartlett, “a small to midsized casino may require storage in the 200 Tbyte to 300 Tbyte range (for the surveillance system only). As mega-pixel camera technology develops we anticipate that this number will easily double.”

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Measuring value

Casinos that do not adapt to changes required on the storage front do so at their peril, sources say.As Pivot3 vice president of marketing Jeffrey Bell points out, the bottom line is revenue. Regardless of federal and state regulations, “surveillance is mandatory. Without it, tables shut down. Storage that’s down, lost, or 'slow' because it’s recovering, can shut down revenue-producing games. Storage represents approximately half of the cost of a large-scale surveillance deployment.”

“Storage ensures that games keep running," Bell continues. "[F]raud detection is kept to a minimum, thus ensuring the casino keeps more of its revenue; storage protects the casino from frivolous prosecution by both patrons and employees and enhances gaming revenue through player management.”

Regulatory compliance requirements also add value to casino storage. “Casinos vary by state and country, but in all instances, a casino cannot operate without two things: fire safety and surveillance,” Bartlett explains. “Backup is extremely critical to the casino surveillance industry and the backup of data is critical. In most gaming jurisdictions, if the surveillance system is down, the gaming compliance division of most states will close the casino. There can be no loss of data without the risk of closing the casino.”

And to ensure that regulatory bodies will not shut down a casino, security divisions have implemented a number of disaster-proof measures. According to Meske, “If hard drives or disk arrays fail, there is backup storage. Surveillance rooms also have independent back-up power supplies in case of power surges or outages.”

Other storage drivers
For Denis Peterson, director of IT at the 192-room Chukchanski Gold Resort & Casino in Coarsegold, Calif., more traditional technology systems are a big storage headache."You have your property management system, your ERP system, your players' tracking system," he says, highlighting the casino's slot system as a particular storage challenge. "It's very high IOPs. Just imagine 1800 slot machines and we're at 70 percent occupancy -- there's all kinds of transactions going on, from inserting player tracking cards to 'jackpots.'"

In an attempt to securely store data from these systems, Peterson has deployed two 18-Tbyte SANs from Pillar Data Systems, one of which is located about a mile away for disaster recovery. "We're using Cisco MDS switching between the two SANs. This gives us redundancy, and we can replicate in real-time. The driver behind this was storage space and performance," says the exec, explaining that the Chukchansi Resort plans to open an additional 214 rooms later this year.

Like many people involved in the casino business, Peterson feels that the industry is undergoing significant change. "What's interesting about the gaming industry, and the native American gaming industry in particular, is that 20 to 25 years ago there were just three main areas of gaming -- Las Vegas, Reno, and Nevada," he says. "Suddenly there's all this competition. There are now all these requirements to become more efficient and streamline processes -- IT people play a key role in that."

Going forward

As casinos continue to monitor patrons with better technology, their storage needs will continue to rise and their cost of doing business will be attributed more and more to storing video.

In reality, the only mission a casino has is to make money and perhaps that’s why it focuses most of its time on those ventures that have a direct impact on the bottom line. And while most casinos once viewed storage as something that never really mattered, today they are quickly realizing that storage plays an integral part in every facet of the operation.The future of casinos rests in the future of surveillance, but most importantly, in the future of storage. And as more casinos accept this, the storage industry could preside over a major boom.

“Several years ago, closed-circuit surveillance was more of a 'boutique' industry but today, there isn’t any street, bus, store, airport or commercial building that you walk into that you are not being recorded,” Bartlett says. “This is becoming a way of life in both the outside world and casinos. So the fact is, surveillance is here to stay and the storage requirements for the video surveillance industry will be unbelievable in the years to come.”

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  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Pillar Data Systems Inc.

  • Pivot3 Inc.

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