The Venetian Hotel and Casino Data CenterThey make it look so complicated in the movies.  Detailed covert operations with the intent to hack into a casino’s mainframe preceeded by weeks of staged planned rehearsals, but I’m here to tell you it’s much easier than that.  

This is my story of how I had 20 seconds of complete access to The Venetian Casino’s data center, and lived to tell about it.

Now, before I go on, I must apologize to all of the hopeful future visitors of The Venetian Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  I have a feeling that security will get tightened down following this story.  So, let me set the stage.  I was asked to attend the HP Technology Forum in Las Vegas to blog about the event and cover it via Twitter.  Part of the agenda for the blogging attendees, and the media, was a tour of The Venetian Hotel and Casino’s Data Center.  I jumped at the opportunity.  I always enjoy customer data centers since it gives me the chance to view what “real people” are doing.  Once we landed at the Sands Hotel and Casino, I was fortunate to be part of the first group of 15 or 20 people so we hiked over to the hidden area where the data center was located.  Well, it wasn’t really hidden, just a door that said, “Employees Only.”  We rode up an elevator one or two floors and came out into a desolate barren hallway that gave the appearance of a hospital.  The hallway made a few turns and we came out into a set of office cubicles.  On the other side were the double doors leading to the data center.  No metal barred doors, no retina scans, no lasers – just two plain doors leading into the data center.  I should’ve know this was a sign of things to come.

The Venetian Hotel and CasinoQuick Venetian Casino Data Center Facts

* 3 Major Data Centers: Las Vegas, Singapore and China
* 500 physical servers in Las Vegas (very little virtualization)
* They use pure Ethernet (IP) for the machines in Singapore; a mix of Serial and IP in Las Vegas 

As we entered the data center, I quickly realized The Venetian was a Dell shop.The Venetian Hotel and Casino Data Center  Did I mention this was a tour hosted by HP?  After inquiring about the large numbers of Dell servers, the CTO of The Venetian Casino, Steve Vollmer, made it clear that they do use a wide variety of manufacturers for their servers, however they are 100% HP Networking.   Usually when you are given a customer tour by a vendor, like HP, it’s an ALL VENDOR customer – meaning they have HP everything  but this was a “real customer data center” tour.  Kudos to Michael Thacker and the HP Public Relations team on finding a real customer with a mix of vendors’ gear.  Which leads me to how I got left behind.

HP BladeSystem and Dell M1000e at The Venetian Casino Data CenterI’m a server guy – networking gear is out of my expertise, so while the rest of the media and bloggers were interviewing Mr. Vollmer, I started wondering around taking pictures (no video allowed.)  I noticed that all of the physical servers (Dell, IBM and HP) were using the on-board Ethernet adapters only.  Very interesting.  It was mentioned that the casino machines are simply computers, so it makes sense that all of the communication is IP based.  As I wondered around to the last aisle of racks, I came across an HP BladeSystem!  Very cool.  I thought they were stuck on old, aging equipment, but here stood the royal crown (INSERT angelic sounds and bright light here).  Sitting right above it was a Dell M1000e Blade Chassis.  Wow – these guys are true to being a multi-vendor customer.  As I was wiping up the drool off the floor, I heard the door slam to the Data Center.  NOTHING but the whirl of server fans and A/C air blowing around.   Now my first thought was that I was the last person and I’m about to get pulled out by the Network Admin who was on the tour with us.  I turned the corner to find no one.   I was alone!

You’ve got to be kidding me.  Surely I’m not standing in a Las Vegas casino’s data center BY MYSELF – but I was.  Now, many things ran through my head – so many movies have been made about breaking into casinos and here I was in the heart of millions of electronic dollars.  I’d like to be able to conclude this story with some amazing details on how I logged onto the casino servers and transferred money to my offshore account but I can’t.  a) I’m a good person.  I don’t steal, lie or cheat and b) I didn’t have a USB key on me.  The reality is, once I realized I was alone I knew I had to get out of the data center as quickly as possible, so I looked up at the overhead camera, gave a smile and walked out the double doors to quickly catch up to the group heading back downstairs.

There’s a few lessons to be learned here:
1) Real customers use a mix of vendors for their hardware – not just one vendor
2) Always carry a USB key with you – you never know when you need it
3) Don’t waste your time breaking in to a casino – just tour their data center with a large crowd

That’s my story.  Now I just hope I don’t get any calls from the F.B.I…

Disclaimer: airfare, accommodations and some meals are being provided by HP, however the content being blogged is solely my opinion and does not in anyway express the opinions of HP.

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  • http://www.twitter.com/ErinatHP Erin Collopy

    What a great story Kevin! We couldn’t have planned it better ourselves ;-) Humblest of apologies for leaving you behind, though. Next year, Thacker and I will institute a “No Blogger Left Behind” policy.

  • http://twitter.com/mseanmcgee M. Sean McGee

    My take-away is this – the Venetian data center folks only care about cost and not features/functionality. Cheapest security, cheapest servers, cheapest networking. You get what you paid for.

    If I was HP, I don't think this is the data center I would have chosen for a blogging event. They reemphasised the fact that they are the “Dell” of the networking world by flaunting a win at a customer that clearly only cares about cost (the reason why they aren't an HP server shop).

  • http://www.virtualizetips.com/ BrianS

    Cool story, I always like to see other peoples labs and data centers also. Kind of like my mom always joked about seeing peoples houses as you drive by at night.

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  • J2sw

    Very Cool story. Thanks for sharing

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    At least they did have an overhead camera and could see you, assuming the camera was real and they were actually watching. Very scary story for a billion dollar casino enterprise. I also bet that you could have videod the place with your digital camera and they would never have known – besides, why limit video and allow pictures – does the sound of computer fans make security any less safe.

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    I’m so love this blog, already bookmarked it! Thanks.

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  • http://BladesMadeSimple.com/ Kevin Houston

    Actually, #hp took us to the datacenter because the Venetian is a REAL customer, in fact they told us the HP Procurve they have in their datacenter won't break. Since it won't break, they can't get approval to upgrade. I guess that's the good and bad to having a good product in your data center. Thanks for reading!

  • http://BladesMadeSimple.com/ Kevin Houston

    Yes, the request for no video in the Venetian datacenter was odd, but we honored it. My guess is that they didn't want anyone recording how to break in and steal data. Hmm. I think I found a way around that one… Thanks for reading, and I appreciate the comments!

  • mseanmcgee

    I think you may have missed my point.

    “Cheap” does not always equal “breaks”. “Cheap” in the IT world most often means “lack of features/functionality” or “technology follower instead of technology leader”. That was my point.

    The Venetian's choice of Dell servers instead of HP servers is typical of the mindset that values cost over everything else (we all clearly understand Dell's model – a model that doesn't earn you the title of #1 in the server or networking business). So, I'm just confused why HP would want to showcase their wares at a customer that clearly thinks of ProCurve as the “Dell” of the networking world. Perpetuating that mindset about your product by showcasing just such a customer doesn't help you get to #1…

    Of course, I'm sure some folks would say I'm biased since I work for Cisco (and all opinions are mine alone). ;-)

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  • Guest

    To funny, I completed a gig at a well known casino on the strip and like you was surprised at the lax physical security in the data center. I had full unsupervised access for like four days.

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