The PMU need no introduction, but what's not generally known is that the company takes bets continuously, every day of the year. Horse races during the day, sports betting in the evening, poker games at night ... Its computer system absorbs between 4 and 8 million daily transactions and must never stop, otherwise it will lose... up to a million euros in only ten minutes.
In November 2016, during a switchover night, the PMU migrated its core business Mainframe computer system to Unix with the help of Metaware, a Gfi Informatique Group company. Since the aptly-named "Easy" program, the computer system gives entire satisfaction.
"Historically, we operate on horse racing and since 2010 on sports betting and online poker" says Paul Cohen Scali, Operations and Information Systems Director of the PMU. The total amount of stakes taken by the operator is close to 10 billion euros annually.
The PMU's ISD has to deal with two important singularities: first, an activity split into two: the physical world and e-commerce. There are 13,000 points of sale throughout France, which ranks the PMU in the top three companies with the largest distribution networks. Players bet on terminals available at the store manager’s level, and the company enjoys a monopoly. For the online business, which represents 700,000 customers, the competition is open.
The second particularity is that the regulation prohibits the gaming operator from using its physical monopoly to develop the online business that is subject to competition. The marketing juggles with this constraint to digitize its points of sale, but from a computer system’s point of view, it is even more difficult: the terms and conditions of different games and the budgets must be carefully separated.
Plainly, everything must work: 60% of the bets are taken in the 5 minutes before the start of the race. During these peaks of trade, a crash of ten minutes represents a loss of one million euros. This explains why, probably more than anywhere else, the PMU was afraid to modify its computer system.
However, in 2009, a crash preventing them from taking bets until 4:30 pm on a Saturday was "the crash too many". "That was a wake-up call, our computer system is our core business, but it is built on an application and infrastructure mainframe, designed in 1995. It evolved in an anarchic way, with significant costs, chronic instabilities and increased rigidity."
The PMU was already actively studying the opportunity to re-internalize skills that had been largely outsourced. "We decided it was a good time to think about the computer system needed for the PMU to meet the challenges of the coming years. We went to see our colleagues around the world and explored all the options: starting from a blank sheet, modernization, software... "
Finally, the solution adopted in 2012 was a two-phase project: The first was an iso-functional migration of the system to a Unix platform, and the second a modernization of the application. "The move to Unix has inspired our teams to look to the future, we wanted to break with the past as we also pursue a more global goal of cultural transformation ..."
The Metaware team, a Gfi Informatique Group company and a specialist in migration, was chosen to carry out the Unix porting. After five blank tests, the switchover took place on November 20th, 2016 between 10 pm and 3 am. At 6:30 am, after the final internal validations, sales were opened to the public on all marketing channels. "Everything worked with the required level of performance from the first day, the turnover was 100% assured, it was success!” considers Paul Cohen-Scali.
"Time to Market of applications has been restored (9 or even 6 months, vs 13 months previously), performance and availability objectives have been achieved: availability 24/24, shutdowns have been reduced and a backup site is available in 2 hours. The PMU's Application and Infrastructure teams have regained control of the company's strategic system. Development processes have been completely updated with the implementation of DevOps practices including continuous integration and automated testing. Finally, the reduction of the computer system ownership costs is spectacular, more than 70%" explains Paul Cohen-Scali.
Today, the computer system continues its evolution. The second phase of its transformation began in 2017 with the rewriting of the reports calculation system, involving a modification of nearly 30% of the rules of the Pari Mutuel Urbain.