Background on SmartGames Technologies
SmartGames Technologies opened its doors in 2002 in the UK, offering a diversified range of gaming and betting technologies and equipment. As part of the ZEAL Network SE Group, an international group of world leading interactive lottery companies, SmartGames is dedicated to creating an exciting and entertaining online lottery experience, and are now a leading organization in Europe providing international lottery and betting businesses gaming products and services. SmartGames knows that in order to stay a leader in this space, they need to provide advanced, high performance platforms that meet the evolving market.
As a technology provider, the company has invested extensively in research and development projects to deliver new and innovative products for the lottery and betting industry, and to customize products for various regions. For example, their online lottery offerings consist of taking bets on the Spanish lottery, buying tickets for the German lottery, or betting on UK soccer clubs.
The challenge – aging infrastructure
New services and innovations require a reliable, flexible network. As SmartGames developed its array of new betting offerings, the underlying network became a problem. It wasn’t built for the new age of online gaming services, and it was slowing projects down. Often, slow production cycles led to stagnant customer experience. And their legacy network made it so SmartGames could not deliver all the new services fast enough for the Zeal business units. They knew they needed to build a completely new infrastructure and do it with cutting edge technologies.
Bernd Malmqvist, Tech Lead Systems Operations at SmartGames explained, “we needed an infrastructure that was easy and programmable for us. We couldn’t provide new services fast enough because the network was static.”
Paul Dingwitz, Head of Technology and Managing Director at Smartgames says, “we were in the process of adopting new automation technologies and streamlined workflows across the platform and we really needed the network tier to be an extension of this initiative. We were not able to accomplish this with the traditional solutions the market was offering, and therefore we reached out to Cumulus to bring us a robust feature reach solution that would allow a great deal of automation and custom configurations.”
SmartGames was a Cisco shop. Their two data centers in London, that were servicing multiple European countries, were running on a network that was old. “Frankly, we weren’t very happy with the state of the network,” Bernd says. They had to do something different. “We knew that continuing with Cisco meant spending a lot of money for basic L2/L3 features.”
Winning the networking lottery with Cumulus, Dell and VMware
SmartGames looked at other solutions in the market. They knew a more modern and efficient network was needed to drive innovation and to satisfy the demands of developers who couldn’t work on a static network. While at a VMware event in 2015, Bernd met up with Cumulus. It was there that they decided on how this new infrastructure revamp would work, with a focus to shift for the entire company in transforming its data centers from physical estates into software-defined data centers. As part of their network redesign, they selected VMware NSX as their network overlay for software-defined networking (SDN).
SmartGames then selected whitebox switches from Dell EMC, running Cumulus on top, as their physical network underlay. This was half the price of what they could get from Cisco.
“When we picked our underlay, we needed to make sure Broadcom Trident chip sets were used,” says Bernd. “We route L3 between NSX with Cumulus and Dell. This has been a great experience for us. We didn’t even have to utilize consulting services to get this SDN solution up and running!”
As part of this network restructuring, SmartGames wanted to use virtual routing & forwarding (VRF). It was the early VRF support from Cumulus that really set their minds to using Cumulus as their official network operating system. Additionally, SmartGames wanted to move in the direction of network automation. Having Cumulus built on Linux was critical because it made integration with Ansible simple and enabled that end-to-end workflow automation.
More good networking wins
SmartGames also adopted Cumulus NetQ, in order to achieve deep, actionable insight into the entire fabric, from the host to the switch. “With NetQ, we can run small check commands and see what was really going on in our network,” said Bernd. “The benefits to us are early alerting and validating whole state of fabric. Monitoring is one thing, but with NetQ, the knowledge is instant. If something goes down, I can see the problem seconds later.”
And NetQ integrated with Slack was a big value to their team. “I can see in a slack channel all that is going on in my fabric. It is hugely beneficial even for a small environment like us. And everyone from systems to network engineers sees the channel and the history. NetQ is really unique, it’s a tool that tells us exactly what is wrong with our environment, and the knowledge to know where it is stemming from.”
“To be honest, Cumulus was a bit more of a hurdle for us to learn, because our knowledge was all around Cisco,” Bernd says. “I have nearly nineteen years in system and networking engineering. Now, I don’t think of my switch as another networking box, but rather another Linux appliance. And we get to really analyze how the system is behaving. I get the ability to get my hands on the knobs and treat the network like servers.”
“But where Cumulus shines is automation,” he continues. “We can utilize the native Ansible modules, which was built for Linux, and it is simple. Sure other vendors have modules for Ansible, but they are not as native compared to just using something that was already built for Linux. And once we get it up and running, we don’t have touch it much. It just works.”
Additionally, SmartGames enjoys the benefits of disaggregation by having choice in their supply chain. “We have possibilities we didn’t have before. We buy our switches from Dell, our fiber cables from China, the SFP and QSFP optics from China, and the operating system from Cumulus. No more dependency on just one vendor. Our supply chain economics are much better than before.”
Including the NetQ licenses, SmartGames achieved a 50% reduction in networking expenditures to get their new networking up and running. Bernd says, “this made it an easy choice.”
In 2018, SmartGames is looking to fully automate the network with Ansible and NetQ, and more broadly adopt the CI/CD and NetDevOps philosophy. Their plan is to create a fully automated deployment pipeline, testing the network in simulated environments that Cumulus helps create, deploying the configuration virtually and more.
“We are basically doing all that Cumulus has recommended,” Bernd says. “It’s turning out great.”