Case Study: Midwest Server Hosting Company Transforms Its Service Responsiveness and Customer Relations With Tegile Zebi Storage Array

June 20, 2012 5 Comments »
Case Study: Midwest Server Hosting Company Transforms Its Service Responsiveness and Customer Relations With Tegile Zebi Storage Array

ipHouse is focused on providing exceptional hosting platforms to businesses. As a nimble, privately held corporation, it offers organizations superior managed and unmanaged hosting solutions not available anywhere else. Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, it provides honest, helpful and reliable service with a friendly, personal touch.

ipHouse’s hosting product line includes cloud hosting of virtualized servers and data centers, dedicated physical server platforms and highly scalable, clustered web and email hosting for corporations, government entities and nonprofits.

ipHouse’s virtualized servers and data centers run on a VMware vCloud environment built on Dell servers, with CrashPlan PROe backups, and LogicMonitor monitoring. The environment was built with fault-tolerant NAS storage from the beginning to deliver a high level of reliability and performance. Although chosen with the expectation that it would scale as the product grew in popularity, the initial storage system for the platform could not keep up with the product growth. After a struggle to optimize the original storage system to enable it to keep pace with server growth, the company switched to a Tegile Systems Zebi storage array. The change has transformed the storage responsiveness and, with it, customer satisfaction.

Challenges

The success of the virtual server and virtual data center product line created storage latency issues that significantly affected ipHouse’s ability to continue expanding the business. “Our customers range from single proprietorships to large corporations running all aspects of their business on servers within their own private virtual data center. Different kinds of customers put different demands on the platform and the storage systems. One customer may just have a single, low-demand server, but the next may have a real-time interactive client program on their servers. These customers need a high level of performance in order to satisfy their clients,” said Mike Horwath, CTO at ipHouse. “We carve out a section of our VMware clusters for our customers to run their networks in. Since we don’t know exactly what our customers are going to do or when, consistently high I/O is a key requirement. It’s not necessarily about throughput, it’s about input and output to the storage systems.”

Poor I/O performance had serious consequences for both customers and ipHouse’s business. “Latency, or how long it takes an I/O to occur and return, was starting to creep up on our old storage systems, and that was starting to cause problems,” said Horwath. In addition, some prospective customers turned away from ipHouse because Horwath was honest about the storage issues. “We moved data around as best we could and tried to stabilize the systems, but the problem persisted,” he said. “Eventually, it became obvious we needed new storage.”

Horwath went to the VMworld conference in August 2011 and started talking to storage vendors about his concerns. “I was looking at newer storage vendors rather than the big guys like EMC or Hitachi,” he said, “because I knew their pricing and it was beyond what we could afford.”

Tegile Systems wasn’t at VMworld, but Horwath heard about the company there. He began discussions with Tegile Systems, and he took delivery of an evaluation unit in December 2011 along with evaluation units from two competing companies.

“Tegile did very, very well in my benchmarking,” said Horwath, “and they worked with me on anything that occurred. If I had any questions, they would bring up a WebEx session and we would work on them together. Most of the issues I brought up they had answers for, and when they didn’t have the answer they would go and find the answer so I was never left hanging with an open issue.”

The Zebi Storage Solution

Thanks to his successful trial, Horwath bought a Tegile Zebi HA 2100 EP system featuring 40 terabytes of storage and 8,200-gigabyte SSDs. Unlike competitive storage systems, Zebi features a two-tier caching infrastructure that accelerates disk I/O performance. Tier 0 is volatile DRAM memory and Tier 1 is non-volatile solid-state disk (SSD) drives. In addition, Zebi incorporates Tegile’s Metadata Accelerated Storage System (MASS), which stores all metadata (data about the data) on the high-speed SSDs to further improve read/write performance by accelerating random and sequential I/O, data deduplication, compression, snapshots and RAID rebuilds.

“Tegile’s MASS architecture really brought us up to peak performance,” said Horwath. “After the evaluation process and bringing the new box into production, customers were amazed at the improvement in service responsiveness. Every customer came back with positive feedback—any issues they had been seeing were now gone.”

The Tegile array has transformed ipHouse’s business, increasing IOPS performance by 400 percent with no appreciable latency. In addition, Zebi’s built-in deduplication and compression are also delivering more space than ipHouse purchased. “Between de-dupe and compression we are running at about 40-45 percent savings,” said Horwath.

Results

The Zebi storage array has eliminated Horwath’s major headache in running his data center, and it has enabled the company to deliver the highest performance for its customers.

“Zebi removes a big chunk of stress off my shoulders,” said Horwath. “It has caused the whole I/O latency issue to go away, and customers are thanking us for taking care of the problem. We have a couple of potential customers who were waiting for us to fix the problems. We’re talking again and should soon bring them onboard.”

Horwath says that he expects new business growth to increase his investment with Tegile. “Now that the big albatross that was holding us back is gone, we are able to continue the rapid growth of our server hosting products,” he said. “I look forward to seeing what goes on over the next few months. I’m hoping I can call Tegile back in six months and say I need another unit. What I buy from Tegile depends on whether we need more storage space or whether we’re running out of CPU performance on the controllers. One of things I liked about Zebi is that I can add another drive shelf to the existing unit to get more storage capacity. If I need more CPU performance I’ll buy another unit.”

In addition to a great product, Horwath feels that Tegile is a great company to work with. “Tegile has been incredibly easy to deal with,” he said. “They have been personable and human to talk to—I don’t feel like just another customer. When I send them messages they respond back. I tell them what I’d like to see in the next version of the software, and they seem to care about those reports. So far, the experience has been positive with every person I’ve talked to.”

All in all, the Zebi system has brought much higher performance to ipHouse’s hosting services, enabling the provider to deliver optimum solutions for its current customers and to improve its future business prospects in the bargain.

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