CATEGORY: Data Acquisition, Transformation & Replication

REVIEWER: Steve Vollmer, director of information technology for The Venetian Casino.

BACKGROUND: The Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas is one of the world's largest hotel and convention complexes. In addition to its suites, the $1.5 billion, 40-acre complex boasts a highly computerized gaming floor, extensive meeting and convention space and retail and restaurant areas.

PLATFORMS: The Venetian's computer systems consist of two iSeries S30s running Vision Solutions' Vision Suite monitoring HP network equipment (Cisco routers) running Windows NT 4.0 on the LAN and TCP/IP on each desktop. The casino's Web site, using a Dell server, running on Windows NT 4.0 and written in Cold Fusion, is also dependent on Vision Suite.

PROBLEM SOLVED: It is simply unacceptable for The Venetian to experience any downtime. The facility makes money by maintaining top-notch services and entertainment 24 hours a day, making the margin of error much wider and more risky than other nine-to-five businesses. Our IT department needed high-availability software it trusted. Additionally, previous systems required several hours of downtime each evening to facilitate tape backup. At The Venetian, there are no convenient times to conduct this backup; therefore, decreasing necessary system downtime for backup was a critical challenge for the team.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Vision Suite absolutely lived up to expectations. As a result of the solution's implementation, The Venetian has experienced no down time because of application backups ­ a process we had to complete regularly each day, taking a computer operator approximately three hours. Now, system and application backups occur nightly, requiring no system downtime and only one person to monitor the process. Vision Suite also has increased system availability, positively affecting the productivity of all departments, especially the hotel and casino functions.

STRENGTHS: The most important strength of Vision Solutions is its reliability. The product is very reliable and requires very little babysitting. We can set it and let it run, trusting that it will continue to run unless we tell it not to.

WEAKNESSES: Preparing for the first switchover is challenging. It takes a lot of work, training and preparation. Soon after Vision Suite was operational, we discovered indicators that the system would not easily switch the hotel/casino systems to the backup system if necessary. This problem was corrected with a Role Swap test where, with Vision Solutions' help, we simulated a system error, tested that the system indeed swapped servers, and then allowed the system to function for a limited time on the backup server. The test was successful, and we now feel confident in the software's functionality.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We began searching for a high- availability solution while The Venetian was still under construction. Our search was quick and easy because of our team's understanding of the critical need for high availability and because of our previous experience with high- availability solutions. We had plenty of funding and the clear objective of finding the most reliable solution. We ruled out only one solution similar to Vision Suite ­ one that a few of us had problems with at other casino/hotels, specifically regarding ease of use and data integrity.

DELIVERABLES: Vision Suite has real-time screens to monitor the system to report if it is behind or in sync in its functions. These screens are very valuable in that they are our view of what's happening on the network and with the software. They are key management tools.

VENDOR SUPPORT: After selecting Vision Suite, we immediately began working with Vision Solutions representatives to determine the specific modules necessary, as well as the full rollout and implementation process. After installing the software, a Vision Solutions' Professional Services team member worked with our operations manager to complete on-site stabilizing and network analysis in preparation for a Role Swap test. Also following the installation, two members of our high-availability team were trained as part of Vision Solutions' Training and Education program to understand Vision Suite's monitoring system, as well as interface and troubleshooting tips.

DOCUMENTATION: The documentation of Vision Suite is only better than average. However, Vision Solutions' customer support is excellent, effectively compensating for what the documentation lacks. For example, using only the documentation provided, we could run the software, but not set it up. Vision Solutions' CustomerCare team goes above and beyond the call of duty to provide the assistance needed.

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