by May 11, 2002 0 comments



You buy a ticket worth Rs 10 at the local shopping mall and select six numbers. You then put it in the Playwin machine to register. Some time later, there’s a draw and those whose numbers match with a master list win pots of money. That is playwin. 

Ever wondered how your selected numbers travel to their culmination in the draw? Read on.

THE FRONT-END
The machine in which you put in your ticket is a computer that runs on an Intel chipset-based motherboard, and has a specialized POS (Point of Sale) application that is programmed on an EEPROM chip inside. It also has an integrated thermal printer that prints out your receipt, and an optical mark reader, which reads your markings on the selected numbers. The application also lets the retailer see and print various kinds of reports, like the current day’s sales or game-wise statistics. The machine comes with an external UPS, to safeguard it from Indian power conditions.

Communication link
The readings from the optical mark reader are sent across a communication link to Playwin’s central server in Trombay, which stores these results and
sends back information to print the receipt. Various kinds of communication links are used for this.

At the front-end, you put your ticket in the computer terminal on the right A shop in Gurgaon, Haryana, where you can buy Playwin lotteries (inset)VSAT
A large part of the communication takes place through VSAT. Though this involves high cost of setting up, the recurring costs faced by the company are low, and uptime is as high as 99.5%. 

Data passes from the terminal to the dish antenna using the X.25 protocol, which has fewer overheads than TCP/IP, and is also more secure, because it creates a virtual channel between the terminal and the server, over which data is transferred. The bandwidth required is a meager 0.5 kbps, because the data to be transferred is to the tune of 100-200 bytes.

DoT’s iNet network
The only issue in using VSAT was that not all retail outlets that install Playwin kiosks would have rooftop rights in their buildings, which would make it difficult to install line-of-sight dish antennae. So, Playwin resorted to an alternative–DoT’s (Department of Telecom) iNet network that uses the X.25 protocol and has points of presence all over the country. Here, the retailer takes a leased line from DoT’s nearest point of presence to his place. Data travels across this line and then through DoT’s own network to its Mumbai location. From here, Playwin draws a 64 kbps leased line to their central server. This line can carry data from up to 128 terminals (as each terminal’s data requires only 0.5 kbps bandwidth). 

Though this system has the advantage of very low initial capital expenditure, the recurring costs are huge. Also, it is slower to implement as it takes a four to six weeks’ to get a leased line. Downtime is higher, too, at around 33%. So, terminals that have been configured for leased lines also come configured with dial-up networking. When the leased line modem, which has dial-up as a backup option, senses that the line is down, it dials out automatically.

Good ol’ PSTN
In search of a system that has low capital and recurring costs, terminals in some parts of Mumbai also use a dial-up modem with the good ol’ telephone line. For this, Playwin has tied up with HTL (Hughes Telephone Ltd). HTL installs a telephone line at the retailer’s end, which for a flat fee, talks only to a RAS box installed at Playwin’s central location. This line cannot be used to make or receive any other voice calls.

And GPRS too
To cover parts of Mumbai where HTL is not present, Playwin uses BPL Mobile’s GPRS network. GPRS-enabled SIM cards with fixed IP addresses are provided at each terminal, either inside GPRS-enabled handsets or in modems like the Nokia M30. These are connected to Playwin’s central server via the GPRS network. The setup also requires a serial to IP converter that can convert X.25 data to IP data, so that the central server can talk to the machines.

THE BACK-END
All the data from these various links flows through a router to four CPs (Communication Processors) or servers. These are Alpha servers that are responsible for all communication between the central server called OSS (Online Sales Server) and the terminals. Each CP has four ports that can support about 1,000 terminals. Three of the CPs also have a load-balancing arrangement.

All bets are registered in the OSS, and all bet files and records are stored here. Online backup is also taken. The OSS is an Alpha-based high-end machine that runs OpenVMS as its operating system. It also uses RAID.
The other part of the back-end is the MIS server–a cluster of high-end Intel machines on Win 2000. Data stored on the OSS is replicated here, and this also maintains a database of players and other statistics.

Accounting and managing the system happens from here. 

The front-end of the MIS are MIWs (Management Information Workstations). These are Intel-based desktop clients that allow users to connect to the MIS, monitor it, or work on it.

Security
Data traveling from the terminal to the server is encrypted. The server and the router are behind a firewall. There are also physical access security measures where biometric techniques are used. 

Apart from the above, the system also uses software called NMS for managing the network of terminals; another one called DataTrack for managing the lottery itself; as well as a helpdesk application for retailers’ queries.

Pragya Madan with inputs from Sanjay Gaikwad, director, technology and new projects
at the Zee Network

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