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The Container Store deploys Texas Memory SSD arrays

Texas Memory Systems' RamSan DRAM device helps Web retailer eliminate bottlenecks from traffic spikes, but it requires help from Oracle to identify data that benefits from SSDs.

The Container Store turned to solid-state drives (SSDs) to eliminate bottlenecks and cope with Web traffic during peak periods, such as after its CEO and chairman appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

But SSDs alone weren't enough for the non-computer storage retailer. Solving the problem also required using Oracle Corp. tools to identify the right data sets to place on SSDs.

According to chief technology officer (CTO) Tom Birmingham, the company's supply chain system collects data from various departments and stores, and produces updated forecasts and inventory order plans. However, after the process had slowed to the point where it spilled over the 12-hour overnight period -- sometimes taking 15 hours to process -- The Container Store acquired two Texas Memory Systems Inc. RamSan-400s in 2007.

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The RamSan-400 uses dynamic RAM (DRAM), backed up with spinning disk drives for persistent data storage (newer versions use NAND Flash for persistent data).

"As we got more and more sophisticated, more and more bottlenecks started popping up," says Birmingham. The Container Store modified its infrastructure where necessary to eliminate some issues, but found that the Oracle database where the supply chain reports originated was still disk I/O bound.

One problem frequently discussed with SSDs is the lack of built-in tools to identify and capture the data best suited for them. Newer hybrid disk systems claim to offer software for that, but there wasn't anything available when The Container Store turned to SSDs. Instead, the organization used Oracle Reports 10g to identify the hottest data sets before adding the RamSan devices, and found the data needing solid-state performance amounted to between 200 GB and 300 GB.

The IOPS from the RamSan-400 were "many orders of magnitude" more than what The Container Store had been getting from its EMC Corp. Clariion CX500 disk array, according to platforms director Jay Wehring. While he didn't have exact performance numbers, he says the 15-hour processing window for the supply chain system was brought down to three hours after installing the RamSan.

About a year later, the company's CEO and chairman appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show to give The Container Store a plug. The near-instantaneous spike in traffic to the company's website was so severe that when The Container Store was to be featured on Oprah again this past November, the IT department put in a third RamSan-400 for 450 GB of Web data.

"It's as if all of Oprah's audience is at the computer, and as soon as she mentions something, they go immediately to the website," says Birmingham. "You can even see it rolling across time zones."

The Container Store is open to considering a Flash-based hybrid system rather than the Texas Memory DRAM approach, but it hasn't looked at anything specific yet. For now, Wehring says he hopes Texas Memory adds more management features to its Web-based GUI. "It would be nice if the Web-based GUI could do most of the work," he says. For example, new LUNs can be created in the browser, but if those LUNs need to be carved up, Wehring says he has to go into operating system-based volume managers to do that work.


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