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Casino rolls dice in server upgrade

An Italian casino's gamble on a Stratus fault-tolerant server pays off with easy maintenance and a smooth transition to the Euro.

Casino de la Vallee, based in Turin, Italy, had a few problems. Its cluster of Windows NT 4.0 Enterprise Edition servers were difficult to maintain and upgrade, and the casino needed to prepare for the January 2002 change to the Euro, said Diego Bertazzi, operations manager of the casino's Information Technology Group. Founded in 1947, Casino de la VallÉe ( has 100 gaming tables and 440 slot machines. Revenue in 2001 was (Euro) 170 million. After some research, the casino teamed with Stratus to implement an ftServer 5200 fault-tolerant server with triple modular redundancy. The server has not gone down yet, and it allowed the casino to transfer its systems to the Euro without closing, Bertazzi said. Stratus claims an ftServer 5200 TMR system averages 50 seconds of downtime per year. Any server downtime is bad news for one of Europe's largest casinos.

SearchWindowsManageabilty: Did you have trouble keeping your servers 'up' before Stratus?

Bertazzi: Before the FtServer we used a cluster of Windows NT 4.0 Enterprise Edition to host our production databases. The cluster performed as expected, especially from the hardware point of view (it was made of two HP NetServer LXr Pro). Unfortunately the software management of the cluster did not meet our demands in term of simplicity and uptime. We upgraded the software on the cluster just once, and it was not easy. One reason for the change to FtServer was we wanted to simplify system maintenance.

SearchWindowsManageabilty: Why did you choose Stratus?

Bertazzi: My previous experience with Stratus VOS mini computer taught me the quality of the design of its fault-tolerant solution, and when we had to upgrade our Microsoft cluster-based servers it was natural to choose Stratus.

The Stratus Server is used as our main RDBMS production server running the core business applications, from the gaming accounting to customer management. Its role is fundamental to the company's information system.

SearchWindowsManageabilty: What other vendors did you consider?

Bertazzi: We started looking at a solution at the beginning of 2000, when we found a Stratus project that would provide a standard Microsoft Windows 2000 on a hardware-based fault tolerant architecture. During that year we met several times with the Stratus Sales team. We waited at least one year for the platform to come into the market.

SearchWindowsManageabilty: What platforms do you use?

Bertazzi: We run 100% Microsoft. We are still based on a Windows NT domain structure, but apart from the domain controllers, all other servers are running Windows 2000. We plan to migrate to Active Directory soon.

SearchWindowsManageabilty: How many servers does your company use?

Bertazzi: We run about 25 servers. Around 20% of them are used by our development team.

SearchWindowsManageabilty: Tell me the steps you took to prepare to migrate to the Stratus server?

Bertazzi: The migration to the Stratus server was actually a double upgrade because at the same time we wanted to move to new-fault tolerant hardware and to SQL Server 2000, which we installed, without any problem, on the ftServer. Once the server was completely installed, we let the developers use it for some months to test the new Euro-ready software. We then decided the new ftServer would support the Euro migration, and we made the transition at the beginning of this year.

This solution allowed us to keep two different environments (SQL Server 7 and SQL server 2000) ready to be used if some problem arises. The physical migration of the SQL database was actually a simple detach-copy-attach of the files comprising the databases.

In fact, the FtServer was a cornerstone in the migration to the Euro, which for a casino is a big job, because its performance allowed us to convert our production database in a very short time, avoiding an expensive closure of the gaming halls.

SearchWindowsManageabilty: How long did the implementation take?

Bertazzi: After the initial setup of the ftServer in summer 2001 we used it in a testing environment for six months. But we timed the migration to the new hardware to coincide with the beginning of the Euro era. The installation itself of the ftServer did not take more than what's normally required for a standard Windows 2000 server.

SearchWindowsManageabilty: How often do you have server problems since you installed the Stratus FtServer?

Bertazzi: We encountered a few hardware problems: a wrong firmware revision on a remote communication board, some bad blocks on a system disk and a tape unit failure. This is pretty normal for a server machine. The difference was that solving these problems did not require reducing system availability. Users did not notice that we exchanged a communication board or a system disk. They continued to work as if nothing happened.

SearchWindowsManageabilty: Has your business improved with Stratus?

Bertazzi: I don't know if the users perception of the system services is better than before, apart from increased performance. What I do know is in IT we have seen many benefits from the ftServer platform, from the standardization of the operating systems, to the higher operational simplicity.

SearchWindowsManageabilty: Describe the migration.

Bertazzi: At the beginning of 2001 we decided the configuration we needed, and after a few months we bought an FtServer model 5200 TMR (Triple Module Redundancy) with two logical Xeon processors, one gigabyte of RAM, two tape units and fourteen 18GB disks configured as three different mirrored stripe sets.

During the summer of 2001, with the help of the Stratus system engineers, we set up the machine and installed the usual software for a server: SQL Server 2000, Veritas Backup Exec 8.6, Microsoft Operations Manager Agent, NAI anti-virus software, VNC remote console, etc. The server was ready! In September we activated the testing environment for the new Euro-ready software and at 4 p.m. Jan. 8th, 2002, we moved the ftServer into production. The server has never stopped working since.

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