Outsourcing Goes Beyond Storage for Dot-Coms

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What happens when your company’s storage needs explode through the roof, and you don’t have a plan to determine your next step? You may find yourself preparing a proposal to get help from an IT outsourcing firm–a company that will handle your entire infrastructure for you, including hardware, switching equipment, and personnel. This article offers a case study in IT outsourcing, from discovering the need for such a service to sifting through the candidates and choosing the best firm for the job.

Taking a hard look at business requirements

“Unplanned storage growth to 30TB and random server outages dont mix well with anticipated traffic from 20,000 live Webcams.

Unplanned storage growth to 30TB and random server outages dont mix well with anticipated traffic from 20,000 live Webcams. Thats what TeVeo Inc., a three-year old dot-com company in Mountain View, Calif., realized within months after outsourcing its Web site hosting. Before it could go forward, TeVeo had to step back and define its storage infrastructure, and then find a firm that could manage every aspect of it according to a definite plan.

TeVeos business lies in its Castillian name “to see”. The more Webcams on the site for eyeballs to stay and view, the more revenue it can generate from banner ads and promotions with Webcam manufacturers. Current traffic on the site comes from two sources software downloads and Webcam streaming. The sites free TeVeo Live software allows anyone to make his or her Windows-based Webcams available via the Web. The site also maintains a directory of TeVeo Live users and hosts link to users Webcams. About 100 Webcams currently appear on the site at any one time.

TeVeo got the site off the ground quickly by outsourcing the hosting to digitalNATION Inc., based in Alexandria, Va. It put the site on Windows NT servers with internal RAID arrays. These servers couldnt handle the I/O processor pounding caused by the volume of Webcam page turns. As a result, server outages occurred, and emergency backups became the norm. Database replication became necessary for several servers.

Joyce Cooper, Web technology architect, had to compute the extent of each outage to see it if was within the boundaries of the service level agreement (SLA). She says, Its not digitalNATIONs fault it couldnt handle the sites traffic and scale the storage for us. These issues turned out to be more complicated than our engineers had expected. In the interim, TeVeo contracted with Intira Inc., an IT outsourcing service in Pleasanton, Calif, for some design help with these issues.

Charting a steady course for growth

Cooper says, Buying servers and managing them in-house didnt appeal to us. The demands of our application stretched our IT staff. So digitalNATION continued to maintain the servers. Meanwhile, Cooper methodically studied the sites storage capacity and performance requirements. The marketing department provided data from several recent promotions. For example, a newsletter promotion with Intel produced 13,000 downloads within three days. She also looked at expected traffic and storage needs from upcoming promotions. Other factors included the 100 or so Webcams coming at any one time from the 30,000 TeVeo Live users. Based on these parameters, she calculated what the storage needs would be if the site continued to offer its free products.

In addition to the current lines of business, TeVeos new products will offer new revenue sourcesand require more storage capacity. Products include a beefed up for-sale version of its Webcam software, and a fee-based storage allotment so users can make their Webcam videos or their camcorder videos available on demand to others. Promotions with Webcam manufacturers will drive traffic on the site to these new products. Cooper also studied the storage capacity and performance needed for these products to be available across several Web sites. Data from Intiras consulting design work helped with this phase of the study.

Cooper based her calculations for six quarters starting with the end of 2000 and going halfway through 2002. Together, the sites had to be able to support up to 20,000 live Webcams. Storage needed for the free software and free Webcam streaming came to a half-terabyte. Storage for the on-demand video hosting would start off at 5 Tbytes, grow to 10 Tbytes after several quarters, and scale to 30 Tybtes. (Although TeVeo has announced its new products, Cooper wont say how much storage each user will get and what it will cost.)

Evaluating all the routes

With this information, Cooper prepared a request for a proposal based on the sites storage requirements for the next six quarters. The IT outsourcing firms, which received the proposal, offer a complete infrastructure, including data centers with server and storage hardware, switching equipment, and IT personnel. She says, Partnering with a service that could handle everything offers more capabilities than a traditional Web hosting service. She also did a buy-versus-build comparison to look at the cost advantages of outsourcing.

Cooper evaluated each IT outsourcing service based on how well it managed three areas networking management, facilities management, and systems management, especially storage.

Exodus Communications, Inc. of Santa Clara, California, which is moving from a data center business to a managed IT service, proposed EMC Corp.s Symmetrix through StorageNetworks, a third-party storage service provider. She says, The proposed cost was very expensive and didnt fit our business model. Exoduss submitted a new proposal with third-party services offered by SiteSmith, Inc. Again, it was expensive and the storage solution didnt seem well coordinated.

A spin-off from GTE Networking Corp., Genuity Inc., Burlington, Massachusetts, made several different proposals. She says, They offered a good plan with good network management capabilities. However, the storage was weak and couldnt scale.

Cooper got quotes from Network Appliance Inc. and from Compaq Computer Corp. for a StorageWorks system. She says, When these systems got to about 2 Tbytes, wed have to start mapping drives. We didnt want to do this. Network Appliance had crude management software.

Cooper selected Intira. She says, It excelled in all areas and offered us a tremendous deal. Immediately wed be saving about $500,000 versus leasing the proposed EMC Corp.s Symmetrix, which we got a quote for. Unlike Exodus, Intira deals directly with EMC so there is no third-party service to manage. Intira proposed a storage system that could scale to 28 Tbytes before drives needed to be mapped.

Putting the pedal to the metal


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TeVeos Web sites will reside at Intiras main data center in Pleasanton, Calif., several miles away from TeVeos office. And a project manager is assigned to work very closely with Cooper. The site will start out with 10 Windows NT servers front-ending an EMC Symmetrix in a fibre channel SAN configuration. Intira will handle of the storage management, such as space utilization functions using EMCs ControlCenter. Intira will use Foundry Gear Inc. for server and network load balancing.

The site wont be fully operational at Intira until the end of the year. However, Intira has started to plan schedules for backup, and cutover procedures for the servers from digitalNATION. Intira is working on a site plan based on forecasts for storage. Thresholds will be set for specific storage amounts and monitored for usage. She says, When we reach a certain threshold, then more storage will be turned on. Our costs are based on the amount of storage we use.

The network side of TeVeos site will get managed through the SNMP suite used by Intiras customer support center. However, Cooper will have a window into all of the management functions systems, network, and storage. Intira has written some application code to sit on top of its SNMP site. This software will allow TeVeos VPN to link right into the site.

Creating a win/win situation for everyone

Cooper is confident about the relationship between Intira and TeVeo and Intira and EMC. She says, This arrangement could save us about $2 million after 18 months.

The relationship will help leverage some of TeVeos development efforts, according to Cooper. For example, to carry out its plan to resell storage space, TeVeo will need an accounting system that can track the amount of space used and the amount paid. Cooper says, And applications were developing will sit on top of the EMC management suite and show us the amount of allocated storage. Well be able to impose a count on the application layer.

Cooper says she has talked to Intira and EMC about implementing new technology for setting up streaming media servers. She says, We can piggyback on our partnership since we cant afford to finance this effort from our own engineering.

Of course, the SLA stands as the one quantifier for accessing a relationship with any type of outsourcing firm. Unlike other IT outsource services, Intira offers one SLA metric based on a 99.95% application availability. John Steensen, chief technology officer at Intira, says, It includes all of the components contributing to the applications availability. Its the highest in the industry for application availability. //

Elizabeth M. Ferrarini is a Boston, Mass, journalist and the author of several books about online services.

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