Hybrid SSD array keeps health website running strong

Online women's health site Lifescript's HP 3PAR hybrid SSD array keeps latency down on the site and blasts emails without interruption.

Operators of the women's health website, Lifescript.com, discovered how a little flash can go a long way when it recently upgraded its Hewlett-Packard 3PAR hybrid solid-state drive (SSD) storage array.

Lifescript, which has been using 3PAR storage for five years, purchased 8 TB of SSDs with its new 100 TB 3PAR P10000 Storage System in January.

The 3PAR hybrid SSD array was part of a data center upgrade necessitated by a new business intelligence platform and a tenfold increase in Lifescript's online traffic, according to co-founder and CTO Jack Hogan.

Hogan said the new array is crucial in supporting a website that attracts 10 million unique visitors per month, and sends six daily email newsletters to millions of subscribers. His IT environment has a lot of database and analytics processing, he said. The key applications are Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS).

Lifescript makes money from online advertising and lead generation from its webpages and newsletters. Hogan said delays in accessing the website and running analytics reports negatively affects its revenue. The company competes with other health-related websites, such as WebMD and Everyday Health.

Hogan said he noticed the new hybrid SSD array increased the speed of analytical processing by about 70% during the array's first day of use. That speed bump allows analytics reports to run on time. He said the hybrid SSD system also reduced latency to 20 milliseconds for website visitors and kept Microsoft Exchange running without interruption to blast newsletters to subscribers.

"We only went for 8 TB of SSDs. That's not a massive amount," Hogan said. "We're sending out 25 million emails a day. That's a heavy load in a short burst of time. It's that warm cache of data getting high I/O, and then data ultimately gets pushed down to lower tiers."

Lifescript has three tiers on the 3PAR -- SSDs, Fibre Channel drives and nearline SATA drives. Hogan said the addition of SSDs in the top tier will enable him to reduce costs by using more third-tier storage. Hogan credited 3PAR's Adaptive Optimization automated tiering software for letting him get the most of flash.

"Adaptive Optimization lets us use the SSDs as a fast buffer and push down data automatically to the right tier. It goes from SSD into Fibre Channel and ultimately into nearline storage," he said. "Right now, we're probably over-provisioned on Fibre Channel. We can go out and purchase cheaper SATA drives."

Lifescript switched from EMC Clariion SANs to 3PAR S400 storage in 2007, before HP acquired 3PAR. Hogan said he switched because he considered 3PAR easy to manage. He said he could provision and scale out faster using the S400 than he could with EMC's storage.

"We saw an increase in traffic coming to our site and we needed to rapidly deploy additional Web servers," he said. "We were able to quadruple the size of our Web farm overnight using 3PAR on the back end and VMware on the front end. With Clariion, we would've had to re-provision additional LUNs [logical unit numbers], and probably would've had to buy additional disks to stripe across."

Hogan said 3PAR's administration lets Lifescript's virtual machine engineers provision storage on the SAN. "My engineers can easily learn the storage arrays, and figure out how that's going to work within the VM world," he said. "They create virtual LUNs and storage groups, and present them directly."

Although 3PAR was a pioneer in thin provisioning, Hogan said he barely uses that feature with his systems.

"We can get a lot of benefit from thin provisioning with our VMware on the front end, but we don't use it everywhere," he said. "We found it more efficient in some cases to provision the proper amount of storage and quickly carve it up. It's a click of a button to carve up a new LUN or create a new storage group. With Clariion, it would take days or weeks to make sure you're striping across the right drives, make sure you create the right LUNs and merge the meta LUNs."

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