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Online publisher picks Pillar to scale its site

Requiring a simple, robust and scalable storage system, online publisher Blurb uses Pillar Data's Axiom 500 to handle up to 250 GB of new data each day.

Looking for a storage system it could easily expand without downtime, online book publisher Blurb turned to Pillar Data Systems to accommodate the terabytes of data per month its users upload to the site.

Blurb lets customers upload content for their books, including photos and other images. The firm will then print the books for prices ranging from $12.95 to $74.95 per book depending on page count and format, and list them for sale on the website. Blurb's authors set the selling price for their books and keep the profits from their sales.

The San Francisco-based company claims to hold more than 500,000 books in its permanent archive. Mike Vincenty, IT director at Blurb, estimates they add approximately 50 GB to 60 GB of uploaded content every day, and said the site once added 250 GB in one day late last year.

Vincenty said Blurb went looking for a storage-area network (SAN) in 2007, a year after the site launched with a 15-drive RAID JBOD with approximately 8 TB of storage "that quickly got eaten up." With a two-person IT staff, Vincenty needed a system he could manage and expand without much trouble.

We didn't need a Ferrari, we needed a truck.
Mike Vincenty
IT directorBlurb
"Our infrastructure was originally thrown together by developers, so you can imagine what that might look like," he said. "When we were looking for a SAN, we wanted to make it simple, robust and scalable. We wanted a load balance on the front end and redundancy for maintenance so I can rotate things out of service for maintenance."

After considering systems from Apple Inc., EMC Corp., Hitachi Data Systems and NetApp, Blurb went with a Pillar Data Systems Axiom 500 with 10 TB of SATA drives. Vincenty said he's added 50 TBs in three upgrades and is now up to 60 TB.

"We made a spreadsheet with categories for simplicity, performance, redundancy, expandability, maintenance and support," he said. "The key things Pillar got us were redundancy and expandability – we can add capacity without taking it offline. We've done that several times, no issues."

He said Pillar Data Systems also scored well in performance, but Blurb wasn't looking for screaming speed. "We're not streaming video or using it for high IOPS; we're using it for storage capacity," he said. "We didn't need a Ferrari, we needed a truck."

Vincenty also didn't care if Pillar Data Systems was a relative newcomer compared to the other vendors he considered.

"They started with a clean sheet on data storage," he said. "Hitachi was waving the flag, [saying] 'We've been doing this a long time.' Well, I'm not so impressed with legacy systems. That wasn't a selling feature for us."

Blurb doesn't take advantage of Pillar Data Systems' application-aware capabilities, and certainly doesn't need the solid-state drives (SSDs) that Pillar recently began supporting. But Vincenty lauds Axiom's quality of service feature and claims a utilization rate of more than 80% for his system.

Still, the ability to quickly add capacity without downtime is probably the most valuable feature for Blurb. "We never want to get caught in that 'Oh shoot, what do we do now?' moment," Vincenty said.

According to Vincenty, he plans to use Axiom's snapshots to protect his Postgres databases and to set up disaster recovery for the company. "I can set up RAID 10 [he's currently using RAID 5], which would be nice because it provides higher performance."

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