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Data Centres & IT Support: Keeping up with the times

With swathes of new technology and regulation bombarding the egaming industry, Jack Mizzi of BMIT discusses what needs to be done for data centres and IT support to keep up.

From our experience, a data centre’s success and longevity emanates from its ability to keep pace and align itself with its clients’ business and IT strategies as well as their evolving regulatory environment. This has been the difference between the data centre being a burden to keep up with or a catalyst to empower the ever changing business requirements. This does not mean throwing more money into the data centre with greater frequency, but rather approaching client partnerships in new informed ways and making intelligent decisions to leverage business growth and diversification – becoming the partner of choice for egaming operators.

With the progressive opening, country by country, of the European egaming market, online gaming operators in Europe face a wide array of opportunities - and challenges. Amongst these is the myriad of technical regulatory requirements that concern their operating and gaming systems, and these often differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Such requirements often include specifications concerning physical infrastructure, its location, records/archiving, connectivity and access to the regulator, amongst the most common. Apart from the diversity, an egaming operator needs to look for the most cost-efficient, timely and open method of compliance.

To complicate matters further, the regulatory landscape in Europe is still in a state of flux.  Over the past two to three years 15 European countries have made changes to or introduced their new online gambling regulatory frameworks, and at least eight more are in the process of reviewing how to regulate their online markets. While the number of countries beginning or continuing to regulate may have many within the egaming industry excited about the possibilities of newly regulated and large, economically developed markets filled with potential players, there are some very complex matters that need to be addressed along the lines of regulation. Following the green paper issued by the European Commission (DG internal market and services) in 2011, it is also expected that a communication will be issued in autumn of 2012. Whether this will seek to harmonise any feature/s of online gaming regulation in Europe remains to be seen.

One issue that the European Commission has been very clear upon is that an operator seeking a licence in one jurisdiction need not also move his servers in the same territory. Legislators and regulators argue that they would need physical access to the system in order to ensure customer protection and prevent fraud and crime. But local servers add very little to the security of the customer and the regulator’s access to information can be ensured in other ways than by duplication of hardware and local IT architecture.

For example in Italy, foreign based AAMS licencees are allowed to keep their gaming servers abroad provided they are located in the European Economic Area (EEA) space and a full, real time connection with the AAMS central control system is in place. The central control system is run by AAMS via its technological partner SOGEI allowing each bet/wager placed by an Italian customer to be recorded, monitored, tracked, validated and taxed in real time. Similarly, online gaming operators licensed in France are not required to have their main servers in France but need to have their .fr servers (‘frontal operateur’) in France and install technology to allow player data and all transactions involving French customers to be audited. This information must be kept in a 'vault' connected in real time to ARJEL. Other jurisdictions took less or more onerous approaches with regard to the physical infrastructure. For example, Poland and Greece both opted for having real time data and records kept in their territory with the possibility of access to the regulatory body.

Within this operating environment the data centre service provider has to take a very holistic approach in order to meet the demands of an operator that is licensed in multiple jurisdictions. Adopting the right technical set-up is one such aspect, which involves the service provider and the operator seeking to determine the optimal deployment which maximises the benefits across countries. As an operator, a key aspect to look for at such stage would be the experience which the service provider has in the gaming market – in other words not any data centre can provide the right gaming-specific technical solution. Typically, an experienced service provider such as BMIT, would advise a solution which spans traditional data centre services such as co-location and connectivity and also factors in the right cloud infrastructure and applications whenever these are permitted and allowed.  Such a ‘hybrid’ approach not only optimises the investment involved but also adapts to the different market requirements and conditions. Cloud services are becoming a critical element of most technical solutions, and sourcing them directly from providers, rather than brokers, can ‘facilitate life’ considerably from a business and technical perspective of the gaming operator.

A second aspect for the gaming operator to consider is the direct input which the data centre service provider can provide in the operational and routine tasks, as well as any set-up changes or enhancements. Typically the chosen service provider should be able to provide 24x7 support using a varied and experienced technical work-force. The provision of services on a “managed” basis, address, in most instances, the technical requirements of the gaming operator in a cost-effective and efficient manner: such as knowing what services to tap into at pre-defined rates. 

In some cases, people will view a data centre as simply a hardwire site where an operator can house the buzzing, bleeping back office of their IT setup. But as we have seen, it is so much more than that. Like any element of a business, especially one involved in such a dynamic and competitive industry as egaming, the data centre side of operations needs to be able to move and evolve quickly with the operator’s setup. Not only has changing technology acted as a catalyst for greater innovation, but regulation has also thrown up some very significant hurdles. That is why it is imperative for an egaming operator to outsource such duties to an experienced data centre services provider, so they can focus on the actual day-to-day activities of running a successful egaming operation.

 

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