Every week, a small contingent of IT experts unlock the doors at a Manchester data centre and prepare to put their network through its paces. Switching on the lights, they sit down to manage the thousands of servers and communications nodes backing up one of Britain's biggest real-time networks from their Network Operations Centre.
These visitors are the IT operations team of bet365, the world's largest online gambling website, and the system they keep operational round the clock has the kind of performance specs that keep IT managers awake at night.
The bet365 website has more than 11 million customers worldwide and some £20bn wagered on its Sportsbook alone. Because customers bet on popular, time-critical events, such as football matches and horse races, its systems can have as many as two million concurrent users at peak times, resulting in up to 500,000 transactions per second across its database estate.
And because of the unique requirements of the business, bet365's owner and joint chief executive, Denise Coates, took the decision that the company should develop its own software and network architecture internally. As a result it has invested heavily in developing in-house systems and software capability and is now a leader in online gaming technology.
Neil Selby, head of networks and security at bet365, says: "Assuring business continuity and disaster recovery has been a major aim of our investment programme over the past three years. We needed to prove that we're able to survive a major site outage, due to either a technical failure or the potentially devastating effects of a natural disaster such as fire or flood."
The company has two primary data centres, in Manchester and London. Its core network has a considerable number of Cisco Nexus 7000 switches. The newer Manchester centre has matured greatly over the past year and all the critical database systems are now duplicated between the two sites.
To make sure the system lives up to its name, 365 days a year, the company is currently completing the third phase of its £1m investment programme to provide full business continuity for its national network. This has involved installing a second Dark Fibre Network in the UK and the first European order for the new NetScaler 22040, Citrix's web application delivery product.
The NetScaler 22040 enables bet365 to continue to grow its 10Gbit/s network to keep pace with customer demand.
Bet365 specialises in in-play sports betting, where customers can bet while the action unfolds during a sporting event - such as on the next goal in football or the next wicket to fall in cricket. Customers can place bets directly, through their PC or smartphone on the bet365 website at www.bet365.com.
"Historically we've run on an active-standby model of resilience with two principal locations for databases and web servers as well as internet connectivity in Manchester and London," says Selby. All of our critical databases are now geo-clustered and are able to work out of any of our data centres."
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