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From slots to robots: Vegas resort runs it all on converged IP network

Plug and play isn't just a figure of speech for The M Resort in Las Vegas, which deployed a Brocade converged Internet Protocol (IP) network to power and connect thousands of devices in the resort casino.

The two-man networking team at the M Resort in Las Vegas don't even blink when casino staff ask them to swap video poker machines from one port to another or to relocate courtesy IP phones from one part of the casino floor to another. Plug and play isn't just a figure of speech for one of Sin City's newest resort casinos, with a converged Internet Protocol (IP) network running thousands of devices on one network.

"The jack on the wall can be anything you want it to be -- a mini-bar, a slot machine, a phone or one of many other endless items," said Rob Willis, corporate vice president of IT at the resort. "It gives you the flexibility to say, I don't care what that endpoint is. Everything's an endpoint. It kind of makes the connection itself generic."

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Network convergence allows the 90-acre resort, which opened in March on the southern end of the Strip, to ensure that network design would not limit how and where the devices functioned, Willis said. Designing a converged IP network created a fluid environment with just one set of cabling for voice, video and data -- and a leg-up on the competition.

"You're [constantly] looking at traffic patterns through the casino -- how people flow, where queuing lines tend to occur," Willis said. "All [the staff] has got to do is tell me what they want where, and I just throw it into a different VLAN [virtual local area network] and it works. If the guy down the street can't do that as quickly, then I have a competitive advantage."

In addition to powering and connecting 1,900 IP-enabled slot machines, the 10 Gigabit Ethernet backbone of the resort's converged IP network enables it to deliver IPTV to guest rooms, animate a pill-dispensing robot in the onsite pharmacy, and reconfigure room keys and door locks over the phone.

If a hotel guest accidentally leaves his room door ajar, the lock notifies the network, which in turn sends an email to hotel security staff, Willis said. Eventually, he expects the network will allow casino guests to use a keycard to save play on a slot machine or video poker machine -- allowing them to be on time for their dinner reservations and later return to the exact same spot in their games.

The converged IP network also identifies any items removed from a guestroom mini-bar and bills the guest accordingly, Willis said.

When you consider we have something on the order of … 5,000 IP devices and we manage that with a two-man network team -- that is pretty phenomenal.
Rob Willis
Corporate Vice President of ITThe M Resort

"You just gain a tremendous amount of flexibility," he said. "When you consider we have something on the order of … 5,000 IP devices and we manage that with a two-man network team -- that is pretty phenomenal."

Brocade converged IP network powers 10 Gigabit Ethernet core

Having previous experience with the network convergence capabilities of Foundry Networks, which Brocade Communications Systems acquired last year, Willis sought out Brocade as his network supplier for the new resort.

Amid the 45 physical servers and 60 virtual servers in the resort's data center, two of Brocade's MLX-8 core switches provide a 10 Gigabit Ethernet backbone for its hotel, casino and convention center. Paired with seven rack switches and 60 edge switches from Brocade, the converged IP network delivers 1 Gigabit Ethernet to the floors, in addition to power-over-Ethernet ports.

The converged IP network deployment also included 50 of Motorola's 802.11b/g wireless access points (APs) – OEMed by Brocade and with upgradeable firmware -- throughout the pool and casino areas. This added to the 250 existing Lorica Solutions APs, to power wireless voice over IP handsets and bring Wi-Fi to 400 rooms, Willis said.

The network is divided into 80 VLANs, by traffic type and application, he said. Nevada law requires that video surveillance cameras in casinos -- also IP-enabled at the resort -- run on an entirely separate physical network. For security purposes, Willis decided to put convention center and conference space traffic on a third network.

"This is the most advanced converged [IP] network I think I've run across," said Harry Petty, director of product marketing for enterprise campus networks at Brocade. "They've got everything running on it, including some exotic devices you only see in gaming. That was a very ambitious goal … but I think this model of looking at the network as a source of [their] company's competitive advantage is a very good representation of what other companies are doing."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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