TAB bets on storage

One of Australia's largest wagering companies, TAB Ltd, cut backup time and future-proofed its architecture with a $1.5 million storage project.

TAB, which operates in NSW and southern Queensland, conducts about 480 million transactions and has wagering sales of $4.5 billion each year as part of its RaceTAB and SportsTAB services and owns Sky Channel and radio station 2KY. It also supports a network of about 320 dedicated retail outlets plus those at agencies, clubs, pubs and gaming businesses and covers some 50,000 races at more than 5000 race meetings.

About 105,000 devices are hooked up to TAB's network and CIO Ken Doughty said vast amounts of data have to be stored for business intelligence, statutory compliance and legislative reasons. As a result the company needed storage on demand. To future-proof its architecture, Doughty said, TAB, which is one of Australia's Top 100 companies, invested $1.5 million in the implementation of two Lightning 9980Vs, Hitachi Data Systems' hardware, and a storage area network (SAN) fabric made up of Cisco's new 9216 Fibre Channel switches.

The project went live in May this year with installations at TAB's two Sydney-based data centres after its start in September 2002 and was delivered on time and on budget, Doughty said.

The implementation supports two mainframes, 20 mid-range servers and 300 smaller servers that manage up to 900 PC desktops.

"The purchase of the two IBM z800 mainframes last July cost about $5 million. We wanted one for each site. They're like Mack trucks carrying heavy loads. We are putting through some real state-of-the-art IT infrastructure, allowing us to cope for future demand," he said.

With TAB's business "geared" for particular days, such as the 38,000 transactions per minute on Melbourne Cup race day, Doughty said TAB required technology that would allow it to store data on demand.

"Our previous storage system used to take about six hours to do the nightly housekeeping and backups, which is now reduced by two hours with the Hitachi system. It lets us reduce the offline window by two hours, and we're investigating a further two-hour reduction so the business can open longer; this will lift service to customers and add value for shareholders," he said.

"At the moment, the offline window is four hours which we're aiming to reduce further. We think it's achievable that with the new system, we'll be able to get to 24x7 within the next 18 months."

With about 140 IT staff at TAB, Doughty said it was a very small skilled and dedicated team who worked on the project.

"For the implementation to be completed in May, we had to work in very defined windows of time - with a lot of work done between 1am and 6am," he said.

"And then we also have freeze periods of, as an example, eight weeks, in the lead-up to events such as the Melbourne Cup, and the autumn [racing calendar] freeze. That's why the project may appear to have taken longer to complete, because no work goes on around those freeze times. So when the freezes were off, we were back into it."

After considering other vendors to provide the storage solution, including StorageTek and EMC, Doughty said Hitachi was chosen due to its offering and competitive pricing.

TAB found it would be more economical and reliable to overhaul its systems rather than build upon the existing storage technology which would have resulted in a lot of maintenance costs and charges.

Currently, Doughty said, TAB is only using five terabytes but the solution can expand to 100 terabytes.

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