The Next Best Thing to Being There: Virtual Sports

    January 9, 2020

    In 1965, AT&T launched a memorable ad campaign about the importance of keeping in touch via long distance. Their award-winning tagline was "It's the next best thing to being there."  Who knew that 50 years later, billions of people worldwide would effortlessly connect virtually through social media, online learning, web conferencing and virtual sports?

    In fact, virtual sports are growing in popularity at a precipitous pace. "Virtuals," as they're called, are quickly becoming a key piece of any modern sportsbook offering. The reasons for the increase in virtuals are varied. Aside from the accessibility of virtuals and their rapid entertainment value, issues such as a region's limited access to real live sports is proving a critical growth driver.

    Companies like UK-based Inspired Entertainment, a business-to-business provider of online gaming solutions, have experienced tremendous momentum, putting pressure on their IT systems from backup and recovery plans to regulatory compliance. When Inspired Entertainment planned its entry into the Canadian market, they reviewed potential service providers that could meet the requirements of their regulators, as well as their own criteria for technical capabilities and pricing. They landed on Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS), which had several data centres near Toronto backed with proven expertise in managing critical infrastructure and recovery.

    As they planned their approach into Canada, management sought an established service provider with in-country data centres and proven disaster recovery capabilities. Today, Sungard AS hosts the company's primary and DR infrastructure from two Sungard AS data centres near Toronto to assure a quality experience for Inspired's customers across Canada – including its recent rollout to Loto-Québec.

    "We were facing a major capital outlay to build our own infrastructure, plus significant time and cost to establish a business," says Tariq Tufail, chief technology officer at Inspired Entertainment. "We looked for an alternative approach that would allow us to test the water before we risked huge amounts of capital."

    Inspired's director of IT operations, James Wilson, led the review of potential service providers that could meet the requirements of the regulators as well as Inspired's own criteria for technical capabilities and pricing. The search ultimately focused on Sungard AS, which had several data centres near Toronto backed with proven expertise in managing critical infrastructure and recovery.

    Following reviews of Sungard AS facilities and methodologies, in addition to extensive technical discussions and negotiations, Inspired signed a three-year agreement with Sungard AS for a complete IT and recovery environment to support its entry into the Canadian gaming market.

    Inspired worked with Sungard AS to develop a recovery strategy that met both its business requirements and budget constraints. "As we worked to optimise the cost of the design, we realised we couldn't have every single server up and running in DR because of the expense associated with doing that," says Wilson. "We streamlined the approach to focus on our top priority – having real time replication of our database in the DR environment. For our application servers, our requirement is to have the DR environment replicate the current or most-recent images."

    The Sungard AS team has been very responsive to our requirements, willing to jump in when we have an urgent request and collaborate with us on broader issues. It feels more like a partnership.

    -James Wilson, Director of IT Operations

    "We were facing a major capital outlay to build our own infrastructure, plus significant time and cost to establish a business," says Tufail. "We looked for an alternative approach that would allow us to test the water before we risked huge amounts of capital."

    Inspired's director of IT operations, James Wilson, led the review of potential service providers that could meet the requirements of the regulators as well as Inspired's own criteria for technical capabilities and pricing. The search ultimately focused on Sungard AS, which had several data centres near Toronto backed with proven expertise in managing critical infrastructure and recovery.

    The agreement with Sungard AS includes a dedicated hosting environment to support Inspired's primary production infrastructure in the Sungard AS Mississauga, Ontario data centre. The environment can accommodate up to 150 virtualised servers running Windows or Linux, plus significant storage capacity. Data held in Microsoft SQL Server production databases is replicated to a recovery environment in the Sungard AS Markham, Ontario data centre, 30 miles away. The Sungard AS operations team uses VMware Site Recovery Manager (SRM) to manage failover and recovery and to meet its commitment for a 2-hour RTO and 30-minute RPO.

    "The net result is we have a resilient infrastructure in place and are now live with a service in a new country," adds Tufail. "It's the first time we've taken infrastructure as a service, and I think we are better for it. It's given us the confidence to make a decision quicker when we're faced with the same challenges of balancing large capital outlay versus trusting a third party to provide us with that service. Our experience with Sungard AS has given us that confidence."

    Bottom line? In the growing world of virtual sports and digital gaming, you don't want to gamble with your IT resilience. Learn more about Inspired Entertainment and their approach to excellence in virtual sports in our new case study.

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