Picture-Perfect Storage

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Snap-happy shutterbugs are forcing the free online photo-sharing service MyPhotoAlbum.com to nix its managed storage solution for an in-house product from ONStor.

Hosting more than 22 million photos, primarily from the U.K., U.S. and Iceland, three-year-old MyPhotoAlbum.com expects to reap better overall pricing and storage scalability for its current and future storage requirements with ONStor, according to Chris Ferry, director of operations at MyPhotoAlbum.com.

Using between four and five terabytes of managed storage from provider SunGard, Ferry said that at the current rate of demand for photo storage, “continuing with a managed storage solution would have put us out of business.” MyPhotoAlbum.com reportedly was paying more than two dollars per gigabyte of storage to managed storage provider SunGard.

The company also realized that it needed greater control to meet its growth requirements. “In some instances, we were asking our managed storage provider to increase storage faster than they could deliver it,” says Ferry.

Images Pile Up

The popularity of the free online digital photo and video sharing service offered by MyPhotoAlbum.com is evident in the number of images stored online and by the growth of its customer base.

According to Jessy Hanley, director at MyPhotoAlbum.com, the service today boasts about 200,000 users. The company’s storage requirements are growing at a rate of about two terabytes per month, and the service supports more than one million page views per day.

MyPhotoAlbum.com allows users to create online photo albums, store digital images and video that can be shared with friends and family. The company also offers users a Club Membership with benefits such as print discounts and more personalized features.

The company, initially located in a small data center in Cary, N.C., relied on a Dell storage array with 400GB capacity. MyPhotoAlbum.com then moved to a new data center in Philadelphia and began its relationship with its managed storage provider.

“We began with an EMC Clariion with a Celerra front end with Fibre Channel drive and SATAmix,” says Ferry. The SATA drives were 300GB to 400GB. “Then we moved to four to five terabytes of Fiber Channel,” he adds.

The growth in storage, which took place in the course of a little over a year, became way too expensive by 2005, according to Hanley.

It was at that point that Ferry began to do research for an in-house system. “We did research on disk costs and we looked at the images we were serving,” he says.

The company reports that of the approximately 5TB of storage, 80 percent was full size, or raw, images, that were accessed 20 percent of the time. Thumbnail images accounted for 20 percent of the storage and were accessed 80 percent of the time.

The company knew what it needed: the storage solution had to support both Fibre Channel and SATA in the same system; provide NAS access; offer ease of management; and allow disk vendors to be selected on the fly to take advantage of pricing and performance.

Beginning in June 2005, the company contacted more than a half dozen of the leading storage vendors. “I had a bunch of sales reps come in to talk about their products over the course of about a month and a half,” says Ferry.

In the end, it was ONStor that led the pack, providing what Ferry says was “the best bang for the buck.”

Photo Finish

Ferry brought in the ONStor Bobcat 2260 NAS gateway a year ago. “We built it on site and tested it for a week,” he says.

By the end of the month, the system was in place. Currently, MyPhotoAlbum.com users access files via the ONStor Bobcat 2260 NAS gateway. Digital images and video are stored on 28 terabytes of Nexsan ATABeast RAID storage and 30 terabytes of Winchester Systems FlashDisk RAID storage. The deployment enables 10 Linux Web servers to access 30 terabytes via the ONStor Bobcat 2260 NAS gateway over NFS. The back end storage consists of two Nexsan ATABeast arrays with 14 terabytes of capacity each, deployed in a mirrored configuration, and a Winchester Systems FlashDisk SAN array, also in a mirrored configuration.

Downloading images to the in-house ONStor storage solution took about a week, according to Ferry. The company migrated about four terabytes of storage to the new system and left one terabyte on the Fibre Channel managed storage.

“We were still in contract with our provider, so we contracted for about three terabytes of managed storage for the highly active storage and we renegotiated our contract,” he says.

MyPhotoAlbum.com currently has plans to move its data center to Manhattan by the end of September. “At that time, we’ll move all of our storage in house, including the Fibre Channel,” says Ferry.

The online photo sharing service has an IT staff of 10 people, including operations and development. Ferry says that managing the in-house storage is easy and takes approximately three to four days of one employee’s time per month.

While the cost savings the company expects to reap by changing its storage architecture are great — about $250,000 in initial savings, plus another quarter million when all storage is brought in-house — an unexpected benefit is peace of mind, according to Hanley.

“We continue to be impressed with the scalability and stability of the new system,” she says.

For more storage features, visit Enterprise Storage Forum Special Reports

Lynn Haber
Lynn Haber
Lynn works as an editor-at-large meeting with new and established channel partners in the IT and telecommunications ecosphere. She works to understand what motivates partners, vendors, and distributors as they navigate growth in a dynamic industry. Lynn has worked as a business and technology writer for magazines, journals, and online media, and has authored hundreds of articles on technology, communications, business management, employment and careers, industry, and products.

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