Everi (which includes the former Global Cash Holdings) decided to upgrade its backup data center to include the same full functionality as its primary one. The company standardized on F5 intelligent traffic management and security solutions and now consistently meets “five-nines” uptime (99.999 percent). It blocks continual malicious attacks with effectively no service disruption.
Everi manufactures slot machines, games, and game cabinets. It also offers a variety of payment and other financial services, including electronic processing of cage transactions, ATMs, kiosks, bill breaking, and ticket redemption—anything that might involve cash or credit in a casino. To best serve its properties (i.e., its customers), Everi maintains advanced IT systems that support its transaction-processing solutions with nearly 100 percent uptime.
In early 2015, an Everi-assimilated company (then known as Global Cash Holdings) decided it was time for an IT upgrade. “The big challenge was that we had two data centers—one primary and one used strictly as a backup,” explains T. J. Short, Chief Information Security Officer for Everi. “We could fail over to the backup if the primary failed, but the backup had only bare minimum capabilities.” Spurred by the company’s growth and encouragement from its properties to enhance capacity and performance, Everi decided to switch to an architecture with two fully functional data centers that form a redundant system.
Short adds, “However, failover from one data center to another is complicated. When a transaction is complete, how should we, on the back end, move the data, later move it back, and reconcile it? How do we maintain records and keep logs so that if the first data center goes down again, all copies of data are up to date or can be reconciled?”
Everi needed a way to efficiently transfer the data, with fewer complications and without disrupting customers or impeding performance. Minimal disruption is key, in part because Everi serves so many properties. “We’re connected to roughly 90 percent of the gaming industry here in the United States, so if you go into a gambling property, there’s a very good chance that it’s supported by us,” says Short. Because the company filters about $20 billion of gaming floor cash in a year and processes more than 90 million transactions, 24x7 high availability is critical. And given all those financial transactions, Everi considers strong security a top priority.
To address these challenges, Everi chose the F5 VIPRION platform along with the F5 BIG-IP product family. BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager (LTM) and BIG-IP DNS (formerly BIG-IP Global Traffic Manager) provide intelligent traffic management within and between the company’s two data centers. Everi uses BIG-IP Access Policy Manager (APM) to support single sign-on (SSO) and two-factor authentication capabilities and BIG-IP Application Security Manager (ASM) to protect critical applications against a variety of security threats. Everi selected the solutions as part of the Best option of F5 Good, Better, Best pricing.
Short says, “We examined the design concepts behind BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP DNS and realized we could use the solutions to support redundant environments—keeping both data centers up and running at the same time, receiving a high volume of transactions, and efficiently processing those transactions on the back end. BIG-IP LTM and BIG-IP DNS were exactly what we needed.”
In addition, the company uses F5 iRules as a labor-saving tool to manipulate IP application traffic and customize the functionality of the BIG-IP system for individual properties.
“I used to think of F5 solutions just in terms of load balancing, but we’re doing so much more than that on VIPRION,” says Short. “We’ve been able to go far above and beyond what we originally expected.”
By standardizing both of its data centers on the F5 VIPRION and BIG-IP platforms, Everi gains a reliable IT environment that consistently achieves 99.999 percent uptime and scales to accommodate growth. Security is also stronger, and IT staff are more productive.
Everi uses BIG-IP DNS to improve the availability of the company’s applications by intelligently directing users to the best-performing data center environment. However, Short says that BIG-IP LTM is so well designed that it offers added reliability by taking action at the earliest sign of network problems. “Even before BIG-IP DNS recognizes a need to intervene, it’s as if BIG-IP LTM says, ‘I’m not feeling well. Let’s move traffic over to the other BIG-IP LTM module as a precaution.’ Thanks to this preemptive approach, we don’t get the conflicting data, data corruption, or duplicate entries in our Microsoft SQL Server logs that other failover architectures might create.”
Short further notes that service level agreements with properties require Everi to maintain at least five-nines uptime. “Ever since we standardized on F5, we’ve been able to not only meet but exceed the five-nines requirement.”
Needing to process ever-growing traffic and transactions, Everi sees the scalability of its F5 solutions as a crucial benefit. “Business is good, and F5 technology is a part of that. We’re already outgrowing our capacity. We have more blades on the way.”
The Everi network is large and complex, but the F5 solutions have features that make it easy to see what’s happening within the components, through both their reporting and design. “With the F5 solutions, we gained a firewall, web application firewall, access control, SSO inspection, DNS security, transaction logs, encryption on connections to devices, and connections to our payment companies,” says Short.
The solutions’ centralized-management design helps IT staff be more productive. “With our F5 capabilities, we can make many system changes by signing in to just one device. That means tasks that used to take an hour now take five or ten minutes, with fewer people.”
Staff also appreciate the time-saving reporting capabilities, such as those related to Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS). “During a PCI DSS audit, we can pull up and print logs that prove we’re following PCI DSS requirements,” says Short. “One print job can cover several chapters of the PCI DSS manual.” He adds that this is a big help for a task that would otherwise be long and tedious.
Everi uses iRules to automate customization tasks, taking advantage of its easy-to-learn, event-driven scripting language to intercept, inspect, transform, and direct inbound or outbound application traffic. “We’ve replaced many manual steps with a few simple rules,” says Short. “The intelligence behind iRules is far above anything F5 competitors offer.”
He adds that many other daily threats are just as effectively neutralized—malicious IPs, botnets, attempted false transactions, and anomalous activity. “F5 promptly blocks them and notifies us.”
Short concludes, “It’s not just the solutions that make F5 the right choice for us, it’s also the people. I regularly receive proactive F5 offers like, ‘Do you need a technician? Updates are coming out. Do you want us to help you understand a new feature?’ We’re not just buying a product, we’re getting real guidance. That’s very reassuring and satisfying.”