Something unusual for the gaming industry is happening inside this small building a couple blocks away from International Game Technology’s massive headquarters in Reno.
The gaming industry’s fiercest competitors have come here to test their equipment to ensure system compatibility in the industry
The IGT Global Technology & Interoperability Center opened in January with the goal of bringing together gaming manufacturers under one roof to help harness the power of the open network for the gaming industry.
The company spent a significant amount of money, $10 million, to construct the 6,500-square-foot facility, which features five private testing rooms, eight work stations, a 30-rack server room on an uninterrupted power supply and storage arrays with sufficient storage to house various customer data.
At the helm of the center is Mohammad Entezari, IGT’s director of product assurance.
An IGT employee since 1993, he helped launch the company’s first Product Assurance department, created the first Network Systems Automation testing team in late 2007, and was the driving force behind the interoperability center.
The facility currently has enough space for 200 machines. Its floor is raised, which offers the ability to have “full connectivity to any type of casino configuration that you want in terms of fiber communication, Internet communication and serial communication,” he said.
“You can pretty much duplicate any type of hybrid-type floor.”
The server room can fit up to 30 racks of servers and is under uninterrupted power supply “so pretty much nothing can go down for a certain period of time.”
Right now, the facility is about 6,500 square feet in just lab space, but there is more space behind the walls that IGT plans to expand next year, “because we think for SB itself you want to have as many available machines on the system as possible,” Entezari said.
[While there are 200 machines right now], “if you can take it up to 1,000 machines, then you really have a true environment.”
To ensure security, the Interoperability Center employs 24-hour surveillance and badge-only access. The Interoperability Center is located in a building separate from IGT’s Reno facility, and operates on a completely separate network from any other IGT operation. This configuration allows confidential testing of products and systems in a true-to-life environment that is 100 percent independent of IGT.
Entezari said the company created a multilayered security environment to give companies a greater comfort level that their intellectual property and new products are secure. “We have five private rooms that companies have their own card access. So if the manufacturers have their own confidential games or systems that are not out in the field yet and they want to keep it confidential, and they want to make sure it works with IGT systems or any other manufacturers, they can have that room to themselves and have full connectivity to the lab,” he said.
Some manufacturers still harbor some resistance. “There is still some reluctance there, but we have invited everyone to come and visit us. All of our systems are available to everybody, so the only way that they can make sure that we are doing what we are saying is to come in here and see that it happens.”
Real-world testingThe Interoperability Center uses production-level systems that mimic a customer’s floor configuration, and the Interoperability Center also is the official beta test site for all Microsoft products that interface with IGT Network Systems’ products.
The idea for the center took shape a little over a year ago, he said, when IGT started talking about the service-based system going live and how IGT could support open-architecture network systems in the field. “We decided that we needed to have an environment where we can pretty much duplicate the casino environment,” said Mohammad
One of the first things IGT officials did was visit Microsoft’s interoperability lab and learn from them how they would design their lab if they had the chance to do it over again. “They gave us so many design hints and things that they would have done if they had the chance, so we brought that back here,” he said.
IGT also visited Hewlett Packard to get ideas from that company, he added.
“At Microsoft they deal mostly with the software side. At HP it’s the opposite. They are into the hardware,” he said. “At IGT, you have to have a solution that brings both of them together because we are both a hardware and software solutions provider. It took us about three to four months to take their input and include what we wanted to come out of this whole thing and another six months to manufacturer it, pretty much do all the construction.”
One of the key strengths of the IGT interoperability center is the fact that it is able to create a testing environment that is closer to the real-world environment. Before, companies had to test with a watered-down version of the systems, Entezari said. “It prevents you, in your software test environment, to do any type of load and performance testing, or stress testing the system,” he said. “Before we just had simulators so when you go into the casinos and turn on the systems and machines there might be surprises... So what we have decided to do was bring that testing back into our own house and pretty much work with all other manufacturers and vendors that bring their systems, their equipment, here so jointly we can work together to make sure that everything is working correctly versus taking chances in the field.”
This is becoming more crucial as the industry heads toward the networked gaming floor.
“Up to this point, you really didn’t have any type of solution where you had your whole floor running on one network. Usually it was just the back-end station monitoring system, smaller pieces but not utilizing your whole floor,” he said. “With [server-based gaming], that is all going to change. Now you have one networked, interconnected system throughout your whole floor [and] all these different vendors and gaming manufacturers.”
That means there will be all these new applications that are going to be installed on the server-based systems for every customer, and they’re going to have their own customized databases. There will be new software companies seeking to get their foot in the door and install applications. “You have to have an environment to test this before they actually turn it on. So that is where we came up with the idea of: let’s bring this all together and work with other manufacturers.”
Manufacturers were a little reticent at first to use the center, he said. “It takes some time to build that relationship and some of them are a little hesitant because of the IT sensitivity. As it goes further along, we can create that comfort level,” he said. “WMS has been very receptive.”
IGT also is touting the center with operators, including MGM Mirage and Harrah’s. “Instead of IGT telling other manufacturers that they need to come here, we tell [the operators] that if you want a seamless system, not bug-free but less than what you are seeing currently, you should be the one to tell them that they should come to this facility, test their equipment and make sure everything works together before it goes live on your floor,” Entezari said. “That approach is going to benefit everybody. It’s just making sure there are less defects going out to the field. Most all of [the operators] want to see the end-to-end picture of the whole thing... They want to see that everything is going to work together and, more importantly, what we developed is what they asked for.”
The center also has been focused on making sure it has all the proper certifications and is compliant with GSA protocol. “We are in the process of getting our ISO 17025 certification. We are already ISO certified 759001 and 759002 and when we can get 17025 then we get GSA certification for all of our IGT firmware or systems products, which we are predicting that in the next month or two,” Entezari said.
IGT also has a plan to ensure its system is up to date and that new advancements go through performance testing.
“We work very closely with Cisco, Dell, HP, Microsoft, Network Appliances and a few more in terms of keeping up with our system. Anytime there is new technology out there, in terms of server technology, they are going to provide us with their solution,” Entezari said. “So we will do a performance testing on our system just to make sure that this new technology they are putting is viable for our customers for them to go through the capital cost of spending the money and upgrading their server for the performance they are going to see.”
IGT also provides, as a service, dedicated integration engineers, he said. “So every time a customer or other manufacturer comes in here we have one person dedicated to them so they can help them with any type of configuration or system connectivity issue full-time at their service,” he said.
Entezari’s hope is that in two or three years, the interoperability center will be a hub for all of the manufacturers’ systems and games. “Obviously, if they don’t come here, we would still benefit because at IGT we have never had a full-blown testing environment running all of our systems, but if we can get all the other manufacturers and the customers to come in it’s going to be successful for the whole industry.”