MySpace Finds Unique Use For SSD Technology

Companies in the IT industry can be ingenious, sometimes jerry-rigging different technologies to meet their own unique computing needs. MySpace, a well-known provider of social networking software and services, fits into that category. The company applied SSD technology, not to one of its typical uses, such as speeding up disk storage, but as a replacement for servers that acted as RAM cache for data intensive applications. By making the change, they reduced server requirements significantly.

February 22, 2010

3 Min Read
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Companies in the IT industry can be ingenious, sometimes jerry-rigging different technologies to meet their own unique computing needs. MySpace, a well-known provider of social networking software and services, fits into that category. The company applied SSD technology, not to one of its typical uses, such as speeding up disk storage, but as a replacement for servers that acted as RAM cache for data intensive applications. By making the change, they reduced server requirements significantly.

MySpace has more than 100 million active users, including 68 million individuals in the US and provides a variety of services, such as MySpace Music, a video platform, MySpace Apps, a celebrity hub, an area for comedians, MySpace Fashion, MySpace Games, MySpace Local (a community of small business profiles) and  MySpace Mobile. Founded in 2004, MySpace is now a division of News Corporation

To support its services, the company has three data centers located in Los Angeles, Chandler, Az. and Ashburn, Va., with a fourth being built in Las Vegas. These sites contain more than 10,000 servers to deliver MySpace services. The systems largely run Microsoft Windows, but there is a sprinkling of Linux in the data centers. MySpace also relies on Fiber Channel SANs and host bus adapters to move its data.  The company depends on information so heavily that it built its own file system about four years ago, which runs on commodity hardware, primarily from HP, and includes a home-grown storage administration system. The volume of data managed, growing at a rate of about 25 percent per year, is approaching the 10P byte range.

MySpace was interested in SSD technology as soon as the rumblings about it first surfaced in 2007. "We liked the concept early on, mainly because of the I/OPs gained compared to spinning disk, but the products were ridiculously expensive," said Richard Buckingham, VP of technical operations. Compounding the issue was nascent nature SSD products. Vendors' drivers and firmware were not ready because the suppliers did not have enough experience to figure out what problems might arise. Storage system's SATA interface was another issue. If a company put a fast drive in behind a slow controller, the new configuration would not boost performance.

Consequently, interest moved to the backburner for about 18 months. In late 2008, MySpace talked to Fusion- io and Intel, which had introduced its new x25 Flash storage systems, about how Flash could improve its operation. Initially, the expectation was that MySpace could plug the technology in and it would speed up its applications, however, they found that performance improvements were workload dependent. "With a slight change in an application, workloads could see performance fluctuations of 10 to 1 or more," said Buckingham.MySpace did find a suitable application for SSD. Because the company's data requirements are so vast, it uses server RAM as cache to speed up application performance. While this approach was effective, it was expensive, requiring lots of servers, and extensive, using up a great deal of space and energy.

The company decided to use the Fusion-io and Intel products to replace the servers. The new architecture enabled the company to reduce its server requirements 4-1, 8-1 or even 10-1, depending on the application. Savings stemmed from reducing the number of devices in its data center, shrinking its data center footprint, lowering its energy and cooling requirements and simplifying its management tasks. "In some cases, the savings were so obvious that we did not have to go through a formal ROI," stated Buckingham.

MySpace began its deployment in early 2009 and has replaced about 25 percent of its RAM cache farm with SSD storage This approach does not make sense for everyone. There are some instances where the CPU can be more of a bottleneck than the storage system. Consequently, MySpace expects the SSD option to grow to 50 percent of its applications in the next few years and then growth will level off.  "We are using SSD in a different manner than most firms, but it certainly is providing us with some significant benefits," concluded Buckingham.

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