Going to extremes isn’t usually a good thing, but sometimes there’s no alternative. As data volumes mount and file size and complexity increase, IT managers are increasingly pressured to contemplate drastic storage solutions. Creating capacity is only part of the battle: retrieving what you want when you need it—quickly—adds a whole new dimension to the challenge.
Industries of all kinds are affected. Telecom and cable companies have invested huge amounts in their networks and look to monetize those investments by offering new, data-intensive services. Software as a service and ‘cloud computing’ providers rely on huge data centers that house vast volumes of data. Oil and gas companies sift through mountains of information looking for new exploration sites. Healthcare generates large volumes of high-resolution diagnostic images.
Then there’s Snapfish, an online consumer photo repository that also runs customer-branded photo services for businesses such as Wal-Mart and Walgreens. Acquired by HP in 2005, Snapfish has more than 60 million members and more than 5 billion unique photos stored online.
The success of Snapfish is due in large part to the promise of unlimited online storage. To fulfill that promise, Snapfish has five petabytes of total storage, a figure that will increase rapidly as more consumers acquire high-resolution digital cameras and push for free storage of data-heavy video files as well as images.
“Our storage model is a difficult one,” says Chris Klingebiel, Snapfish Vice President of Partner Solutions. “We handle a very, very large number of files. Any given file is accessed infrequently, but when that happens, access has to be instantaneous. High-performance storage can handle the load but costs too much, and affordable systems stumble under the workload. We’re always struggling to balance reliability and cost.”
When HP announced a multi-petabyte storage solution with simplified management at an affordable cost, Klingebiel and his colleagues jumped at the opportunity to implement it for storage of high-resolution photos. That’s how Snapfish became one of the first customers for the new HP StorageWorks 9100 Extreme Data Storage System (ExDS9100).
“There are three core value propositions for the ExDS9100,” says Pete Brey, Worldwide Technical Marketing Manager, HP StorageWorks Enterprise NAS Group. “Scalability, ease of deployment and operation, and a level of affordability that you just couldn’t find with this kind of capacity and performance before. This means that the ExDS9100 directly supports new business models that take advantage of Web 2.0 and helps them turn huge amounts of data into a competitive advantage.”
The ExDS9100 consists of two main components. One is a “performance block,” an HP BladeSystem server blade. The base ExDS9100 comes with four, each delivering up to 200MB/s of raw performance. The solution’s performance blocks, based on HP BladeSystem server blades, can easily scale up to a maximum configuration of 16 blocks with up to 12.8 cores per rack unit, yielding 3.2 GB/s performance.
The other component, a “capacity block,” contains 82TB of raw capacity. The base unit starts at 246TB and can scale up to 820TB. The ExDS9100 design means that customers can easily scale performance or capacity without taking storage offline.
Under one roof
The ExDS9100 has a single point of management and an easy-to-use interface. “Normally storage, network infrastructure and server infrastructure are managed separately,” Brey says. “We’ve pulled all that together. The normal efficiency metric in high-end storage is terabytes per admin: now you can talk in terms of petabytes per admin.”
The ExDS9100 has been designed to cost $2 per gigabyte for most configurations, Brey says. Although some competitors have responded by cutting prices, Brey says that “low cost has been designed into the ExDS9100, not added with an eraser. They can’t beat the savings on a repeatable basis.”