OurStage Beefs Up Systems and Storage for Music Web Site

The Internet music site was seeking gains in performance and was pleased to also see improvements in system manageability.

May 12, 2009

5 Min Read
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OurStage calls itself "the largest independent music Web site on the Internet" and carries the work of more than 80,000 independent musicians. They can post their tunes on OurStage's new music discovery site and enter themselves into contests for weekly prizes aimed at furthering their musical careers, such as appearing on Starbucks' MusicMakers series. As a music media startup company that began in late 2006 and went live with its Internet content the following March, OurStage also understands the growing pains of being a startup -- and the necessity of deploying storage architectures that are capable of supporting its growing business.

"We didn't have much money when we started the business, and we began it all on a single Intel and Linux-based white box server," says Mark Niedzielski, infrastructure manager for OurStage. White box servers are non-branded systems that are built from generic server parts and cost substantially less than their branded counterparts. "As we matured as a business, the requirements and the demands for our systems also grew," he says. "This has caused us to take the pieces of our systems that are the most stressed and to replace them with higher performing hardware and software."

In considering revisions to its processing and storage infrastructure, OurStage had several key objectives:

-- It wanted to improve overall system performance and reliability for its users, who demanded instantaneous Web-based response.

-- Like many startups, OurStage had a lean staff. This meant that Niedzielski was responsible for most of the technical setup and trouble-shooting. With the Web site (and its following) growing, there was simply no time for downtime. Problem resolution had to be swift and effective.

-- OurStage wanted seamlessly integrated analytics that would give it an easy to use dashboard, which in an eyeblink could tell a system administrator how the system was performing.

-- The music media business changes rapidly, and there is no way to predict where it might be several years from today, so OurStage wanted to position itself for the new technologies that it felt its music media business would demand. One of these key storage technologies was flash-based solid state drives (SSDs).

"Our archived databases continue to run on white boxes, but in production, where we use file systems, we really needed to boost performance," Niedzielski says. "We made the decision to acquire a Sun flash-enabled 7210 storage system for our production workload. The 7210 uses the OpenSolaris operating system and the Solaris ZFS file system. Immediately, we saw the performance gains that we were looking for in production." On the read side of storage, the 7210 has built-in flash SSD for superior performance. On the write side, OurStage's 7210 uses 47 500-GB hard drives.

Niedzielski says he hadn't anticipated gains in system manageability, but was pleasantly surprised to see them. "We had been so focused on performance that manageability was actually more of a secondary need," he says. "Manageability is often an area that's overlooked, not because it's not an area where obvious gains can be made, but simply because it's also an area where you can very easily underestimate its benefits."

The software management was important for OurStage because it had a rapidly expanding file system and needed an efficient methodology (accompanied with tools) to manage volume.

"In the white box and Linux environment where we started from, it was up to us to establish the file system and the volumes needed to manage them," Niedzielski says. "The tools that we had to accomplish these tasks were not well integrated, and we found that we had to use different sets of tools for the file system and for the volume management. We could make these tools work, but as the business grew, it became more and more difficult."

Software management functions were totally integrated with Sun's Solaris ZFS file system, he says, and the ease of use of the management tools essentially made training a non-issue. "Most of the time, we only have to use two commands," he says. "One is a ZFS command, and the other is a ZPOOL command that operates on file systems and pools for volume management. The most important addition to system management, though, is a comprehensive analytics function with a friendly user interface that allows us to point and click and to dig into how the box and the storage are being used. I can graph one processing scenario against another to model for performance, and to trouble-shoot. Once a week, I also take 15 or 20 minutes to survey what's changed in system performance and to make adjustments."

By selecting the Sun 7210, OurStage didn't choose the lowest priced solution. "Raw cost is a factor for startups, as it is for other smaller organizations," Niedzielski says. "But for us, the ROI equation is a little different. It's not just the money that you pay upfront, but it is also the cost in the staff time that you're going to save. In our IT operation, we only have two people. When it takes me three days instead of two hours to solve an issue, it gets expensive. Sso is this the cheapest solution going in the door? No. But when you figure in the savings in staff time, it's close -- and it positions us for new storage technology."

Niedzielski projects that part of this future technology will be to make greater use of flash SSD, where reads and writes can be fully optimized. "Being able to optimize is where flash really shines, because you're not just adding bulk storage," Niedzielski says.

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