Priceline.com is reaping big savings with a utility storage solution from 3PAR.
Interested in reducing storage deployment times, overhead and complexity, Priceline CIO Ron Rose has had his eye on the developing utility storage sector for several years. While content with the company's existing Fibre Channel SAN solution, Rose saw an economic model with utility storage that was compelling.
Today, with the installation of six 3PAR S400 InServ Storage Servers, the advantages of consolidation have been dramatic, Rose says. "We've reduced our SAN ports by 73 percent and went from 15 racks to five," says Rose. That translates into a reduction in administration time by 50 percent per terabyte, a 66 percent reduction in power and floor space, and a 30 percent improvement in capacity utilization.
"We estimate that we will get somewhere between a 50 to 75 percent reduction in the total cost of ownership over a three-year period," Rose says.
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Rose believes that the data center should function as an operating system. "What that means is that we need to do work on virtualization," he says. Guided by this IT concept, the CIO has for the past three years been on the lookout for a storage model that offers better economics, consolidation, reduced administration and more flexibility for virtualization.
The solution had to address all mission-critical SAN data, including core demand collection and offer-processing Oracle databases.
"When I began looking at utility storage, we weren't in any rush because we liked our SAN solution," says Rose. In fact, he notes that over a three-year period, the company looked at about five utility storage solutions from five different vendors.
"Unfortunately, all of these vendors blew up on performance or they didn't have credible claims," says Rose.
But that didn't stop him from continuing his search because the ROI of the utility storage model was so compelling. Then he heard about 3PAR, which made performance claims worth looking into.
"They claimed their utility solution was capable of 700MB per second of data transfer and 20,000 I/Os per second," says Rose. "With metrics like that, I figured it was worth a shot to look at the company."
In late 2004, Priceline began a three-month pilot using 3PAR's S400 model. "We did extensive stress testing and tried out the thin provisioning and administration," he says.
Thin provisioning helps reduce over-allocated storage and makes it available for provisioning. "This feature automatically grows your volumes," says Rose, who has seen a 30 percent improvement in storage utilization from thin provisioning. The 3PAR Inform Operating System includes embedded volume management capabilities.
Booking Big Savings
Rose finally met a utility storage vendor that lived up to its promises. "We were delighted with the results of the pilot," he says.
Priceline purchased six 3PAR S400 InServ Storage Servers and has been rolling out the products over the last five months.
"We use the units in redundant arrays," he says. Two units are located in the company's primary data center, two units are in the secondary data center, and two units are in the corporate data center. The primary and secondary data centers carry the company's production loads, and in the corporate data center, one server is used for the data warehouse and the other is used for testing.
While Rose preferred not to give specifics on the exact number of terabytes of storage the company has, he did note that each of the production sites and the data warehouse have several terabytes each.
The rollout of the 3PAR solution was done using a form of replication to maintain availability. "It was done in an upgrade fashion," says Rose.
The solution was first rolled out to the data warehouse, where the company tested the throughput and also got used to the system administration. "The process was fairly painless, but it does take discipline," he says.
Next the system was rolled out to the Oracle database and then to the two production facilities, all in the same replication fashion.
Storage consolidation at Priceline, using the storage utility model and 3PAR solution, has been dramatic. According to Rose, Priceline had 50 Fibre Channel and 60 SCSI arrays, and now has five 3PAR arrays, and the company went from 90 SAN ports to 24, an improvement of 73 percent. Priceline's infrastructure supports dozens of servers.
The Next Destination
Going forward, Priceline's next project is virtualization of the operational management of the data storage and data center, according to Rose. The company is looking at Xen, from XenSource, Zones in Sun's Solaris OS, and VMware for virtualizing server functionality.
"We looking at how we can get fifty percent improvement in system administration, greater availability and flexibility," he says.
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