Case Study: New Storage Servers Help Internet Fr Deliver Fast and Reliable Web Hosting

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The implementation of network attached storage (NAS) servers has helped Internet Fr improve the speed and reliability of its web hosting services. With more than 10,000 professional sites hosted, the company is the leader in the web hosting business in France. In the past, using server-attached storage, it was difficult to provide the level of availability required by customers with mission-critical e-commerce sites. The switch to network attached storage provides dramatic performance improvements because dedicated processors provide separation and optimization of functions that allow parallel processing of both network and storage tasks. It has helped the company deliver a new higher-level service package dedicated to the hosting of critical applications such as e-commerce sites, online communities, workflow applications and others. “The storage server helps us offer consistently higher faster response time than our competitors,” said Gabrielle Thevenot, Marketing Manager for Internet Fr. “It has also caused zero downtime since it was installed, which helps up increase our availability levels as well.”

Founded in 1995, Internet Fr quickly became one of the leaders in the French market for hosting business web sites. With its host center located in Paris, the company has its own backbone and multiple peering agreements that provide direct connections with leading French Internet service providers. Internet Fr advises its customers on the choice of hardware and software architecture for their website. Servers are monitored on a 24X7 basis and trained technicians respond immediately to each alarm. The company provides a full range of reporting services that include weekly or monthly traffic and service level reporting. Prior to bring the system online, the performance and reliability of the system is thoroughly tested. The company offers ten different e-commerce solutions and has prestigious customers such as Century 21, Kenzo, Tati and Matra Aerospace. The company recently announced that its sales have reached $4 million and opened a subsidiary in Italy (an another one will be opened in Spain in the second part of this year).

New higher-level hosting service

Recently, the company made the decision to introduce its Tenors level of service, designed to provide the ultimate performance for critical e-business applications. Tenor integrates a range of sophisticated services including load balancing, security, redundant failover, backup, application maintenance and others and guarantees that each application will be hosted on a dedicated server. In the development of this new service level, Internet Fr technical management recognized that they needed to improve their storage systems. “The server attached storage that we have used in the past was sufficient for some applications but couldn’t meet the requirements of the most demanding companies that we were hoping to attract to our Tenors service,” Thevenot said. “The problem was that the storage server workload conflicted with the application load, causing reduced quality of service and longer response times.”

Internet Fr technical managers began investigating the NAS approach. They found that NAS servers typically offer higher reliability and performance than general-purpose servers because they are optimized to move file data as efficiently as possible from disk to network and vice versa. After examining a number of different NAS alternatives, Internet Fr managers selected two Auspex 4Front NetServer 2000 data servers (Auspex NS2000) each with one processing node, one GHz of data cache RAM and 512 Gigabytes of storage capacity that can easily be scaled to 9 Terabytes. The key reasons for selecting the Auspex units, according to Thevenot, were the fact that their ultimate storage capacity is higher than competitors and they support both Unix and Windows NT file systems. Each storage server has two 2 gigabit network interface cards. The first is used for communications with the various Unix and Windows NT servers operating at the site. The second provides intelligent and protected replication between the two storage servers using Turbocopy software and backup data to a Quantum ATL P1000 robotic tape drive changer.

Architecture based on storage server task

The I/O node is the fundamental building block of Auspexs architecture. Each node contains a dual-Intel processor motherboard that has different and logically separate processing functions. The network processor processes network protocols and manages associated caches. The file and storage processor is dedicated to managing the file systems and associated storage hardware. The result is a dramatic improvement in reliability and performance compared to general-purpose servers. The Auspex NS2000 is designed to provide continuous availability in mission-critical, data-intensive settings. Flexible, hardware-assisted RAID is incorporated into the system design. Redundant copies of data are maintained on the file servers that employ RAID 5. The database server load is balanced dynamically across the file servers and mounts can be moved dynamically between servers. Redirection can be run from the command line, scripts or with SNMP traps without affecting users connected to the Web clients. This feature also allows for rolling upgrades without service interruptions. Batch clients can update multiple file servers simultaneously to maintain synchronization of data.

The NS2000 incorporates a call home monitoring system, which can detect Host, I/O node and HDDA component failures in order to provide accurate problem determination data to the Auspex personnel for superior serviceability. It supports a full Solaris management environment which along with Auspex Control Point a browser-based management tool, and industry standard SNMP MIBs, provide the user with an easy to manage system that can be readily integrated into his existing operating environment. Furthermore, for automated backup and recovery, the NS2000 provides NDMP support that allows leading, third-party, NDMP-compliant data management tools to execute backup and restore operations via a remote console.

An important requirement of this application was support for the Windows NT and Unix operating systems which are both used by various Internet Fr clients. Auspex’s NeTservices software provides seamless file sharing between NFS and Microsoft Windows NT clients. NeTservices optimizes the Common Internet File Services (CIFS) protocol for Windows NT to give users the same speed of access and reliability as UNIX clients. NeTservices allows Auspex NS2000 to act as a Primary or Backup Domain Controller in Windows NT, eliminating the need to use a Windows NT server. It also controls access to files and directories and lets a user manage Windows NT or UNIX data from the same console. NeTservices has demonstrated the industry’s fastest ZD NetBench 5.01 performance at 58 MB per second throughput. The test result was more than double the fastest NetBench test result posted by any other NAS vendor.

Improvements in response time and availability

“Since we installed the storage servers, we have experienced a dramatic improvement in response time and availability,” Thevenot said. “ur benchmarks consistently show that we are delivering page downloads several times faster than our main competitors and significantly better than we were able to achieve in the past with server attached storage. The zero-downtime performance provided by the storage system has also helped us to deliver a 99.997% availability guarantee to our customers. Installing the storage servers has helped our marketing efforts as well. Many of our potential customers are familiar with the Auspex system and knowing that we have it helps to build their confidence in our hosting capabilities.”

“ll in all, this system provides the power and flexibility we need to meet the expectations of our blue chip clients,”Thevenot concluded. “ur redundant configuration eliminates worry about storage system failures while allowing us to scale storage capacity as we need it, when we need it, to accommodate our growth. The net result is that we are able to deliver higher levels of performance than our competitors, probably higher levels than any other French hosting site. You can’t overestimate the importance of data storage to a web hosting company. Our ability to quickly and reliability deliver information from these servers has helped the new Tenors service succeed beyond our expectations. It is already generating a significant proportion of our revenues. The Auspex NS2000 has proven to be the ideal platform to support our growth.”

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