Wine.Com Adopts SSDs to Optimize Online Retail Operations

Wine.com's performance went from 345 milliseconds per transaction during peak processing periods to 88 milliseconds, for a 392 percent improvement.

June 16, 2009

4 Min Read
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Processing over 650,000 shipments per year, Wine.com is the largest online retail wine store in the country. Founded in 1998, the company has 100 employees and eight of them work in the IT department. Technology is the backbone of Wine.com's business operations, so in a natural technology progression matching its growth, Wine.com searched for a state-of-the-art storage system capable of handling its transaction processing, data warehousing and daily business requirements. It made the decision to migrate from conventional hard drives to flash solid state drive technology (SSD) in support of its mission-critical applications."When we first started in 1998, it was prior to the emergence of many modern Web technologies," says Geoffrey Smalling, Wine.com's chief technology officer. "We were a Microsoft shop. Everything we implemented was home-grown, and based on Microsoft .NET. Our backend processing was based on Epicor Enterprise Requirements Planning, and it was highly customized."Part of Wine.com's challenge is coping with the different state laws governing the sale of wine. Wine.com found it necessary to establish 10 separate data warehouses, which formed the back ends of 10 discrete online retail stores for 10 different states. "We are not in every state in the nation, but we do provide products for 80 percent of the country's wine drinking population," Smalling says.It was during the 2007 holiday season that Wine.com began to experience severe bottlenecks in its transaction processing. "We made it through the holidays by navigating through the bottlenecks, but it was very clear to us that we were experiencing serious I/O problems and that we had done all the tuning that we were able to do," Smalling says. "We approached our storage vendor for a solution and a quote, but the end result was such a major consulting project that we decided to look at other alternatives."Seeking performance improvement in transaction throughput and data backups and failover, Wine.com made the decision to become Fusion-io's first Windows customer. "We started conservatively with a proof of concept," Smalling says. "Initially, we were a little nervous. We were accustomed to using a SAN storage approach, and now we were going to replace that with a card in the Fusion-io architecture."Wine.com had two HP DL380GS servers hosting SQL data bases. The primary server, which supported Wine.com's production database, used four 320-GB Fusion-io solid state flash ioDrives as a RAID 1 array, and two 320-GB devices in a secondary storage array. The second server, used for backup and failover, used the same configuration."The two boxes were replicas of each other, specifically designed for failover and continuous processing," Smalling says. "For the four Fusion-io disk arrays in each box, we partitioned the arrays so that in each server, there were 180 gigabytes of storage dedicated to the SQL server processing and 180 gigabytes dedicated to logs, backups and other SQL server components."Wine.com began its proof of concept with the Fusion-io drives in October of 2007. "We were so impressed with the performance gain that we upgraded our online storage over the Thanksgiving holiday, and determined to be in a live production environment in time for the busy holiday season," Smalling says.Wine.com's performance on transactions went from 345 milliseconds per transaction during peak processing periods on the old storage platform to 88 milliseconds on Fusion-IO, for a 392 percent improvement. "The other major metric we were benchmarking was the time for backups, since we are a 24/7 operation and can't afford to be offline for long," Smalling says. "On our old storage platform, backups were taking two hours. With Fusion-io, the same backups take six minutes. A full database restore went from three hours to 15 minutes, and the invoicing of shipments, which formerly took one day to complete, now processes at night in a one to two hour timeframe."What challenges did Wine.com encounter in making the conversion to a new storage solution?"Since we were the first Windows customer on the Fusion-io technology, the migration took a little longer than we initially expected," Smalling says. "At first, we had issues with driver updates, and we also needed to know how hard we could push the card."Smalling had some concerns about using a flash card and whether the redundancy was adequate for failover. "Our old SAN storage solution had two heads, so there was tremendous built-in redundancy," he says. "Each driver had two hot spaces, and two servers could attach to these, so the rollover was easy. Now, we had a card inside of each server, and we felt that we lost some of this redundancy. It made us a little nervous, but as we gained familiarly with the product and worked with the vendor, we began to see how the redundancy was delivered on the card, and how there were numerous checks built into the data on the disk."With the storage migration now behind it, Wine.com is positioned for business and technology growth -- and for premium service for its customer base. "We saw a 2,000 percent improvement in IO throughput, and we're happy," Smalling says. "The results speak for themselves."InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on the most innovative startup technology companies. Download the report here (registration required).

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