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Priceline replaces legacy storage with 3Par

Reluctant to switch vendors, found the ROI on 3Par's utility-based storage and thin-provisioning software too good to turn down.

Online travel provider has radically simplified its SAN infrastructure by dropping 100 Sun Microsystems Inc. storage arrays into five 3PARdata Inc. (3Par) servers. The consolidation strategy is expected to save the e-commerce giant significant storage administration time, capital expenses and maintenance costs.

Digging in to the details, Priceline consolidated 50 Fibre Channel arrays and 50 SCSI arrays into five 3Par S400 InServ Storage Servers. The old kit was configured in 15 racks, while 3Par's storage fits into five racks reducing the company's power, space and heat requirements by 60%. The implementation is approximately 30 terabytes.

Priceline's chief information officer Ron Rose declined to name the company's previous SAN vendor, but sources familiar with PriceLine's storage environment confirmed that it was using a mixture of different Sun systems.

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"We weren't in a hurry to leave our old vendor, but the ROI with 3Par was too good not to make the switch," Rose said. "We waited for them and were kind of hoping they would catch up with the same functionality in a timely manner, but we were able to see the ROI on 3Par immediately."

He added, "We had a great SAN but there were certain inflexibilities with it: The storage was good but not optimal, it used expensive Fibre Channel disks and it had a lot of SAN ports."

With 3Par's array, Priceline was able to shrink its port count from 90 down to 24 SAN ports. "At $500 to $1,500 a port, that's a significant saving," Rose explained. Priceline is also expecting to buy 30% less capacity by using 3Par's thin-provisioning software.

Thin provisioning prevents administrators from having to overbuy and over allocate capacity to cover for unexpected needs by letting applications think that they have more storage than they actually do. When these applications really require capacity, the software releases it on an as-needed basis and non-disruptively to the application. The thin-provisioning tool enabled Priceline to reduce its management time by 50% as administrators are no longer tied up with capacity allocation jobs.

Instead of FC disks, 3Par's arrays use SATA and FATA (low-cost FC) drives -- another welcome cost reduction.

The design of the SAN around 3Par's technology has also helped the company to centralize the management of its storage. "There is no need to put agents out onto all of your boxes as 3Par centralizes management," Rose said. Priceline has two production websites, for failover and load-balancing purposes, each of which has its own 3Par box. These are mirrored onto two more 3Par Inservs at a hosting center. A fifth system resides at Priceline's corporate datacenter and houses the data warehouse, and a sixth Inserv is kept in the lab for stress testing.

Rolling upgrades
The tricky part of the upgrade was mapping out the rollover to the new technology. Priceline's IT environment includes hundreds of Windows and Linux servers, as well as 160 Sun servers running Oracle databases. "We are one of the most highly available shops within e-commerce," Rose said. "The most painful part of any technology migration is rolling it into production."

To limit the impact of the downtime, Priceline performed the migration from Sun to 3Par arrays during the night starting with its least critical applications first. The data warehouse was rolled over first and the transaction engine for the website last. "We paused for a few days between each to let it bake," Rose said.

Take your pick
Priceline began looking at 3Par a year ago after evaluating about 10 other vendors. To reach a shortlist, the company conducted a Bake-Off but declined to give details on this or on the other vendors involved.

"We have learned that large, mediocre companies don't necessarily win over small companies with excellent products," Rose said.

Other companies developing utility storage products include Hewlett Packard Co., Sun and IBM.

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