Online photo service snaps in tiered storage

With storage capacity doubling every 120 days, MyPhotoAlbum stopped storing everything on EMC FC disk and brought in SATA disks from Nexsan accessed via an OnStor NAS gateway.

As the holiday season swings into gear, online photo sharing services are preparing for thousands of photographs to hit their systems every day. Storing these photos and keeping them all available without breaking the bank is a major challenge.

MyPhotoAlbum.com, owned by FortuneCity.com Inc., currently hosts 13 million photos on 28 terabytes (TB) of Nexsan Technologies Ltd. SATA-based storage accessed via an OnStor Inc. Bobcat 2260 NAS gateway.

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With its storage requirements doubling every 120 days, the firm's previous approach of buying chunks of EMC Corp. storage from managed services provider SunGard was becoming unaffordable.

"Economically, it made no sense to be storing everything on expensive disk," said Chris Ferry, director of operations at MyPhotoAlbum.com. The firm still stores thumbnail photos on an EMC Clariion at SunGard, but the majority of images are served off SATA disks in-house from Nexsan. "We needed the ultimate performance for thumbnails as that feature loads 30 concurrent images on a page, but everything else can be lower cost disk," Ferry said.

MyPhotoAlbum.com looked at ATA-based systems from EMC and Network Appliance Inc., (NetApp) but the cost from these legacy suppliers was considerably more than Nexsan's offering, the firm discovered. "You can't scale those systems, either," noted Ferry. "You spend $200,000, reach a point, and then you have to spend another $200,000 for another system."

Avoiding being locked into a single vendor was another consideration for the company. Any storage can run behind the OnStor gateway, freeing up MyPhotoAlbum.com to switch suppliers on the back end as needed.

"We did worry about the mean time between failures with SATA drives, and we decided it would be in our best interests to buy two Nexsan systems and use OnStor's mirroring capabilities between them," Ferry said. He said that buying a second Nexsan array was still cheaper than a single system from EMC or NetApp.

Furthermore, Nexsan can pack 14 TB in a 4U rack, saving the company precious data center space.

Looking ahead, Ferry would like to see Nexsan add support for Fibre Channel to its system so that he isn't forced to find other vendors to provide this storage. Also, MyPhotoAlbum is expanding overseas and at some point will need to mirror its storage over a WAN.

"We're getting big in Iceland -- up to 10% of our traffic is coming from over there, and we might need to have a site in Europe," Ferry said. He is expecting OnStor to support remote failover capabilities in the first quarter next year.

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