Online retailer RedEnvelope needed a new storage infrastructure to meet its growing data storage needs. Rather than go with a safe and more expensive storage solution, the company chose a storage product from Pillar Data Systems that provides a more innovative architecture at a lower cost.
San Francisco-based RedEnvelope today uses two Axiom 500s from Pillar. RedEnvelope, founded in 1997, moved away from direct-attached storage (DAS) to the NAS system and hasn’t looked back.
“Direct-attached storage was a drain on our resources,” said Dale Emel, director of technology at RedEnvelope. “The Axiom 500 allows us to consolidate our platforms and save money.”
Although the IT team looked at several leading storage products, it was Pillar’s technology that RedEnvelope believed would extend the company’s IT capability going forward. “We needed to change what we were doing and adapt to meet the future needs of the company,” said Emel.
With more than $100 million in sales in 2006 and a substantial and growing customer base, the online gift company knew it needed to take a serious look at its storage architecture.
“We generated 1.7 million hits on our Web site between October 1st and December 31st for the 2006 holiday shopping season,” said Emel. “After assessing our most critical storage need, which is for the holiday season, I knew we needed to address the direct-attached storage with standalone arrays that supported our Web site.”
Since joining the company about 10 months ago, Emel knew that the company was focused on changing many pieces of its IT infrastructure. In particular, he notes, the company had an interest in reconfiguring its storage to meet new needs such as taking advantage of new Oracle feature sets and grid computing, since RedEnvelope’s maximum capacity needs occur three months out of the year.
The direct-attached storage that was in place at RedEnvelope wasn’t what the company needed going forward. “With DAS, we spend employees’ time and company money on small individual assets,” said Emel. Not only was he looking for system consolidation. but he also wanted to focus on the holiday time requirements and a better way to archive and secure data.
“There just weren’t many options with DAS. We have to run software on top of the OS to secure it, and physically there are a lot of cables on the back of the units and a lot of spindles on the arrays,” he explains. If the company lost data, it had to rely on tapes for recovery, which Emel said would just add to the workload. RedEnvelope’s Web site used about 10 Sun StorEdge T3 storage arrays and had 5 terabytes of available storage.
Extending the capability of the storage architecture was just one criteria on Emel’s list when looking for a storage solution partner. The company also wanted system consolidation, to cut costs and have options for future growth.
The IT department looked at storage solutions from EMC, Network Appliance and Pillar. EMC and Network Appliance were viewed as “safe” vendors with more expensive products. Pillar, on the other hand, was viewed as a growing company that had more to offer RedEnvelope at a better price point.
The company brought in two Pillar Axiom 500 units to test. “We took our warehousing application and put it on the units to see just how good Pillar would perform,” said Emel, who adds that the IT department hammered the units during a two-week test. The results were encouraging.
“Without any modifications, we increased our speed by four times — queries, application and response times,” he said.
With the help of Pillar’s on-site engineers to assess RedEnvelope’s storage needs, the company was ready to purchase the storage solution.
The company moved ahead and purchased the units, complete with Axiom slammers and three or four bricks on each one. “They were identical units with 7.5 terabytes of storage,” said Emel. The company also purchased the SAN fabric.
“My goal was to keep costs low going into the holiday knowing we could add more capacity as needed,” he said.
Saving a Bundle
RedEnvelope moved its Web and shipping platform to the Pillar technology, in addition to the warehousing application that was already on the unit. Since the initial configuration, the company has extended the unit twice. Today, the racks are filled to capacity with 11 terabytes each, according to Emel. “We also added NAS units and increased the graphics capability of the Web site,” he adds.
As the company adds images and zoom technology to its Web site, the online retailer wanted to be able to present the information to all servers for use by the product development, merchandizing and marketing teams.
“With NAS, we can put the data in one place and serve it to many hosts, saving time without needing to have multiple copies of images on multiple servers,” said Emel.
By removing the direct-attached storage arrays and moving to the Axiom storage, RedEnvelope calculates savings of approximately $250,000.
The company also has additional plans for its new storage architecture. The IT department is looking at adding a real-time application cluster from Oracle in time for the holiday season.
Later in 2008, Red Envelope will bring in another Axiom unit for a back office inventory management system currently using an HP E3000 direct-attached storage unit, which has reached the end of life.
“Pillar has allowed us to achieve every benchmark we set,” said Emel.