Hardware Today: Kentucky Derby Backs Gateway

by Drew Robb

Churchill Downs, Inc. recently shifted its chips from Dell to Gateway -- mere weeks before its Run for the Roses.

Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI), the owner and operator of the Kentucky Derby, has deployed Gateway servers and other hardware at its corporate headquarters and racetracks. The three-year deal brings Gateway server, notebook, and desktop systems to CDI's recently renovated Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Ky., as well as the Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, the company's most recent acquisition.

Gateway has stocked CDI with a full suite of products to meet the demands of the organization, including Gateway 975 and 995 rack-mount servers, Gateway M275 tablet PCs, Gateway M460, and M680 notebooks, and Gateway E-Series desktops.

"Gateway's customer service capabilities, combined with the ability of the Gateway servers to support our additional of complex customer relationship management [CRM] applications were primary drivers in our decision to select Gateway," says Jay Rollins, vice president of IT at CDI.

Pipping Dell at the Post

Prior to this agreement, CDI used Dell equipment. Dell Servers, PCs, and notebooks remain but will be replaced with Gateway hardware as they reach end of life. Rollins reports no major problems with Dell. The company bought the equipment and was happy with it, but when the time came to upgrade the entire IT infrastructure to harness more advanced customer-focused applications, CDI realized it needed greater vendor involvement in terms of deployment and maintenance.

"We were looking for a partner with CRM experience that could offer us standardized hardware," says Rollins. "The bid from Gateway was the best in terms of CPU price-performance, and this has turned out to be an excellent partnership."

The two companies signed a co-marketing agreement that gives each side room to expand its reach. Gateway, for example, had a big presence at the track during the 131st running of the Kentucky Derby, which took place on May 7. About 250,000 guests passed through Churchill Downs that weekend. Gateway also used the sponsorship to hold employee contests with Derby-related give-aways.

"Gateway's customer service capabilities, combined with the ability of the Gateway servers to support our additional of complex customer relationship management [CRM] applications were primary drivers in our decision to select Gateway." — Jay Rollins, vice president of IT, CDI

Prior to the implementation, CDI didn't have many servers. It purchased a total of 19 servers from Gateway. Nine of these are 2-way Gateway 975's used for CRM. They are 2U general-purpose Intel Xeon dual-processor 3.2 GHz machines. Two more Gateway 995's are also used for CRM functions. They are 4U models with Xeon MP 3.0 GHz processors. For general-purpose IT operations, such as mail servers, domain servers, and Web servers, the company purchased an additional eight servers. These are a combination of older Gateway 975's and the newer Gateway 9515 4-way rack servers with dual Xeon processors.

Speed of deployment, says Rollins, was another important factor in the decision. The contract was signed a few weeks before the Derby, and CDI wanted the sophisticated CRM systems to be operational on race day.

"We told Gateway to ship the servers the day we signed on the dotted line," says Rollins. "We received all servers and equipment within a week and half."

Only a few of the servers were sent to Churchill Downs itself, however. The racetrack hosts some development servers and the eight IT operational servers mentioned above. As the company keeps its in-house IT staff at a moderate level, it uses EDS to host its CRM servers at a data center in Orlando, Fla. These machines host data marts, data warehouses, and online analytical processing (OLAP) databases, as well as running analytics software, campaign management tools from Epiphany of San Mateo, Calif., and various e-mail marketing tools.

"We don't have the IT infrastructure in place to host advanced software onsite," says Rollins. "For us, it would have been like changing the tire on a moving car. So we opted for the hosted route."

>> Derby Day and Beyond

Derby Day Victory

The CRM applications are Web-based, and a high-speed network is used to connect to the remote data center. Four Gateway servers support the Kentucky Derby Web site. During this year's event, CDI experienced an unexpected spike in traffic that stayed high. The Gateway 975 servers sustained a throughput of 140 Mb per second for 15 straight minutes before, during, and after the race. The Derby's Web site attracted 6,800 hits per second during this period.

"Despite booming traffic, the servers never went down," says Rollins. "Our Gateway models were supplemented by edge servers by Akamai to facilitate the movement of content closer to the request."

In addition to the upgraded back end, CDI added Gateway desktops and notebooks. To date, 50 Gateway PCs and laptops have been deployed. As the older Dell hardware ages, these units will be changed out for new Gateway models. By the end of the three-year contract, Rollins expects 500 to 600 Gateway PCs and notebooks will be in operation.

"Despite booming traffic, the servers never went down," says Rollins

On the flipside, as onsite Dell servers age, they are swapped out. Two older servers, for  example, have been replaced with a Gateway 975 and a Gateway 9515. By the end of year three, all Dell servers will have been displaced. Servers run Windows 200x, and end-user machines run Windows XP.

Racetrack visitors will also benefit from new display technology to watch races, track bets, and view statistics on horses as well as their jockeys. Gateway-powered kiosks have been placed throughout the venues. They are hooked into the network and feed data to a remote Gateway 995 server, which analyzes the information.

"We decided to add kiosks to enhance the customers' on-track experience," says Rollins. "We are also using the kiosks for surveys and contest sign ups. We use the kiosks to capture what customers think about our products, analyze the results, link the data into our CRM systems, and do follow up surveys."

Keeping the Same Jockey

CDI has no plans to change server or hardware jockeys any time soon. With no downtime attributable to server issues experienced on any of its Web sites or applications, the company is more than satisfied with the results. Further, it feels it has gained a clearer picture of how to use technology to fulfill its own business goals by working more tightly with a service provider.

"We needed help from a partner in order to give us a longer-term technology direction and to help us achieve it," says Rollins. "We are working together closely to achieve our technology goals, and at the same time, we are influencing product development at Gateway."

This article was originally published on Monday Aug 22nd 2005
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