VPN pays off for Army

'Our work force is small, yet we're monitoring a huge number of systems,' so remote control via a VPN makes sense, the Army's Mike Kuiper says.

Chuck Bigger

A trio of Army recreation IT specialists'from left, Mike Kuiper, Vince Fox and Rodney Robinson ' remotely manage servers and slot machines in Europe and Asia through a VPN link.

Recreational slot machines go net-centric

To keep gaming and cash machines running at 120 Army recreational centers throughout Europe and Asia, an Army IT team is linking them via a virtual private network with remote-control software.

'Our work force is small, yet we're monitoring a huge number of systems,' said Mike Kuiper, an IT specialist for the Army Recreation Machine Program. There are only two support personnel for all of Europe, and two for Asia.

'We're collecting a stream of data from machines, including the card dispensers and cash dispensers,' Kuiper said. 'All that information comes back up, and we analyze it for potential fraud.'

The slot machines are part of a larger initiative of the Army Community and Family Support Center to provide recreation for service members and retirees as well as contractors stationed overseas.

The VPN connects 50 locations now but eventually will serve all 120 sites. It runs over leased commercial circuits with equipment from SonicWall Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. The Army team also is evaluating new VPN gear from Nokia Corp. of Finland.
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The Army recently switched from coin-operated slot machines to those that accept stored-value Payflex smart cards. The cards come from Axalto, a division of Schlumberger Ltd. of New York. Kuiper estimated the center has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in labor by moving to smart cards.

'Coin handling was a huge issue,' he said, because bags of coins had to be shipped to each facility and staff members had to manually stock the machines. To make network-centric management possible, the new gaming machines connect to local servers running monitoring software from Grips Gmbh of Graz, Austria.

Operational and transactional data from the servers travels back to the recreation program's Fort Carson, Colo., headquarters via Unicenter control software from Computer Associates International Inc.

Any unusual activity that affects the gaming machines results in a message to an event log database on the local server. Unicenter constantly scans for new messages and alerts the appropriate staff member by e-mail.

To streamline maintenance, all the servers had to have the same configuration, Kuiper said. The Army program looked for hardware from companies that could offer support overseas, such as IBM Corp. and Dell Inc.

'We try to standardize our systems as much as possible,' he said.

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