Tools Hedge Barona Casinos Bet

Casino using Extreme switches and beefed-up Epicenter, 3Com equipment.

Its a gamble worthy of any of the Barona Casinos highest high rollers.

What started as a simple bingo hall in San Diego 13 years ago is poised to expand into a new Las Vegas-style casino complete with a 396-room resort hotel by years end. To do that, the Barona will need to triple the size of its network infrastructure over the next five months and add increasingly sophisticated network management tools.

"Pretty much every casino I know of is under a constant state of expansion and change, and were no exception," said Shawn Constable, senior network infrastructure engineer at the casino. "Anything that helps us track configurations and changes to configurations is a benefit." The casino is owned and operated by the Barona Band of Mission Indians.

By years end, the network will grow from approximately 40 switches to 120 and from 400 computers to more than 600, using a combination of legacy equipment from 3Com Corp. and an increasing number of switches from Extreme Networks Inc., Constable said. To administer the expanding infrastructure, a year and a half ago, the casino deployed management and inventory control software from Extreme called Epicenter, which provides real-time traffic monitoring and trouble-shooting.

Last week, Extreme, of Santa Clara, Calif., beefed up Epicenter, which is one component in its infrastructure service management product suite. The new version, 4.0, was developed for scalability to make the management of growing networks, such as Barona Casinos, more efficient. Slated to increase productivity, it manages more devices than the earlier versions, allows more system administrators to work on the network simultaneously and includes an updated topology manager that displays physical and logical maps of the network.

"There are a lot of complex network management tools out there that are underutilized," said Les Stuart, product line manager at Extreme, adding that the complexity often discourages full usage. "Our target is for a user to be able to utilize 75 percent of the products functionality without ever opening the manual."

The latest version of Epicenter allows the export of real-time traffic statistics to a spreadsheet format from which reports can be generated. Historical reports and trend analyses are necessary functions in efficiently administering a network the size of the Barona Casinos, which supports back-office operations, such as accounting and human resources, and operations where casino employees interact directly with players. In addition, the new hotel will be equipped for high-speed Internet access in each room, creating new network challenges, including the ability to provision bandwidth on demand to multiple users from a central location.

"We need to make sure a single room doesnt take over the entire bandwidth for the hotel or for a whole floor," said Nick Condos, network engineering supervisor at the casino.

The market of network service activation and provisioning software suppliers is crowded, and Extreme joins not only giant players such as Lucent Technologies Inc. and 3Com but also a number of smaller but aggressive players. Although Extreme software interfaces with legacy gear, its software works best with its own hardware, according to Barona Casinos Constable. "Epicenter sees our 3Com equipment, but it doesnt really manage it the way it manages Extreme equipment," he said.

In deployments that start mostly from the ground up, as in the Barona project, Extremes software in combination with its hardware can be a logical sell, but even in those cases, customers will eventually seek products that work across a heterogeneous network, according to Joel Conover, an analyst with Current Analysis Inc., in Sterling, Va.

According to Extremes Stuart, Epicenter 4.0 works with any other vendors devices with standard mid-Level 2 SNMP and remote monitoring implementations. "Of course Im going to manage the Extreme equipment best and foremost," Stuart said. "But if anybody makes a managed device, they have to make sure its [standardized]."

If Extreme plans to compete against some of the entrenched activation and provisioning suppliers, rather than simply use its software to better promote its own hardware, it will have to develop enhanced, multivendor capabilities, Conover said.

"In the enterprise, there is a need for being able to integrate and present a united front," Conover said.