Event horizon

Brazil 2014 offers the online betting industry a bumper crop with unprecedented levels of wagering. INTERGAMINGi speaks to Stephen Trimble of Continent 8 Technologies, one of a number of companies hosting and handling astonishing levels of data during summer 2014

 

The global game” many call it. Others prefer “the beautiful game.” Perhaps it’s both. All however agree that a World Cup in Brazil – widely considered the spiritual home of modern football- offers the sports betting industry its most bountiful opportunity yet.

 

But football is only the start of it. Wimbledon fortnight, the Formula 1 season and cricket tours all help make summer a peak time for the industry. This year sees not only a burgeoning mobile and tablet sports betting sector continuing to grow but the added excitement of Brazil 2014 and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Whether punters are betting on Rafa, Lewis, Cristiano or Usain, underpinning it all is some of the smartest, hardest-working, most secure technology to be found anywhere. INTERGAMINGi asked Stephen Trimble how companies like Continent 8 keep the wheels turning.

 

INTERGAMINGi: How does a summer of major sporting events affect your business?

 

You are never far from the build-up to a huge sporting event, whether it be the Olympic Games, World Cup, Grand National, Cheltenham festival or the weekly Premiership soccer action. Every event is significant for operators – which make them all significant for Continent 8.

 

So for us, this summer is not unusual, the events themselves are constants; what makes each year different is continual innovation and development of technologies. One such innovation is the rise of ‘in-play betting’, where punters gamble in real-time on sporting fixtures as they unfold, with the odds attributed to the various in-play markets constantly fluctuating as the sporting fixture in question plays out.

 

While the first mobile betting apps allowed punters to place bets on a variety of different sporting events within the big sportsbooks, in-play markets were solely a privilege for those sitting in front of a PC or Mac. Early mobile/smart phone technology did not allow the sort of functionality required to continually update betting markets, and thus operate an in-play market in real time. But as mobile technology and Internet access has steadily increased in sophistication, so in-play markets have become a reality for mobile Internet surfers as well as home users.

 

With the rollout of 4G across the UK over the next 12 months, the innovation trend is only likely to continue through 2014. The UK Gambling Commission reported that the global remote gambling market is currently worth £795 million and growing. William Hill’s Annual Accounts reported a 198% increase in mobile gaming revenue in 2013 while Bet365 reported a 150% increase in mobile wagers last year.

 

In 2013, outgoing Paddy Power CEO Patrick Kennedy announced that mobile betting was the fastest growing market in the UK’s real money gaming industry.

 

In-play betting requires the operator to be ‘closer’ to the user – they need to minimise any latency between their site and the user to make the user experience be one of real time. The distributed data centre and network point of presence model Continent 8 has developed, along with its high bandwidth, high availability and low latency backbone is exactly the foundations which are being built upon to deliver the best in-play betting experiences. So for Continent 8, it is a trend we are 100% aligned to, and are developing more services to enhance our offering in this space.

 

A single event, such as the Grand National will see increases in Internet bandwidth requirements by sportsbooks of over 400%. As such, a summer of major sporting events is as exciting for Continent 8 as it is for the operators – and the punters.

 

How do data handling businesses manage with the uplift in traffic and the inevitable spikes around major matches/moments?

 

Traffic spikes need three key resources – bandwidth, network intelligence and computing power, and they need it instantly.

 

In the case of bandwidth operators need to ensure that throughout their online platforms there is sufficient capacity to accommodate traffic ‘peaks’. This starts with the links between the operator and their hosting provider; they must have ‘burst’ capability enabling peaks to be accommodated automatically by the technology without any contractual / human intervention. When users want to access the site they simply must be served pages, no compromises.

 

Intelligent network design and management is a key requirement to enable automated, and intelligent handling of peak traffic across multiple diverse links.

 

In terms of computing power, there are a number of options. Traditionally, each operator would invest in their own dedicated infrastructure just to ensure that they can accommodate such sporadic increases in user traffic. The downside to this would be that in, for the most part, the additional infrastructure is sitting idle, costing money and taking up valuable data centre space.

 

Perhaps the most technologically ‘elegant’ solution these days is Cloud Bursting – a deployment model in which an application runs from the operator’s data centre and bursts into a provider’s cloud when the demand for computing capacity spikes. The advantage of such a deployment is that an operator only pays for the additional computing resources when they are needed.

 

Does this increase place a greater a strain on the infrastructure and, if it does or could, will you be taking any special measures?

 

As a data centre provider capacity planning is part of Continent 8’s DNA. We continually have to ensure that sufficient data centre space, bandwidth, power, cooling, technical resources, are available. We have to consider requirements from customers across the globe whilst keeping one eye on trends – and the other on the sporting calendar!

 

Continent 8 has significant capacity headroom across all of our global sites, our global network and across all of our upstream Tier-1 Internet feeds. In addition, we have agreements in place to be able to adjust this further at extremely short notice – so there are no capacity issues.

 

Are we likely to see an increase in DDoS attacks during these events? If so, how will you combat them?

 

It is clear that operators highly depend upon business at peak times during popular sporting events, and cyber criminals are well aware of this. Hence, in the build up to and during the events this summer, operators are likely to face increased threats from cyber criminals seeking to exploit the unusually abundant amount of online betting. The threat is not limited to businesses; punters, especially those less experienced in online betting are also exposed to increasing levels of risk.

 

In the run-up to highly popular and profitable events cyber criminals often attempt to hold betting websites to ransom (often for a relatively negligible amount against the potential loss of business) by threatening to or launching Distributed Denial of Service attacks.

 

As described above, many punters are using mobile gaming apps to place their bets, exposing them to the theft of credit card information through mobile spear phishing attacks. Cyber criminals also use ‘spamverts’ (spam emails including fake advertisements) to entice individuals to click on links embedded in seemingly genuine betting sites. By clicking on the link or registering an account, users can become victim of malware or data theft.

 

It goes without saying that businesses within the online betting industry should consider increasing their external threat monitoring to quickly identify fraudulent sites, review forums and social media sites to identify potential attack planning. Continent 8 has a proven high capacity DDoS threat detection and mitigation platform which can also be implemented to maximise uptime and increase response readiness to attacks.

 

Operators only get one chance at maximising revenues from major sporting events – they need to take every precaution possible to secure that revenue stream.

 

Article appeared in iNTERGAMINGi, Issue 3, 2014

Posted in Press Articles