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Plaxo, a Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center, Discovers the Value of FlashSoft Server-Side Caching

By utilizing FlashSoft for VMware vSphere, the business keeps its promise of high levels of uptime while keeping the cost of the service down.

Infrastructure with FlashSoft

FlashSoft-based infrastructure consists of:

  • Physical server: Dell, Intel processor, 128GB memory
  • SSD: 800GB, STEC PCI-E
  • Storage: Nimble Storage SAN, CS260
  • Application(s): Database – MySQL 5.5

Challenge:

Based in Sunnyvale, CA Plaxo is an active business in the Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center, which is a satellite office of Comcast, charged with building innovative new products for entertainment, communications and the digital home. The Center maintains an environment with a start-up culture, where innovations and ideas affecting millions of end users go quickly from conception to deployment. The Silicon Valley Innovation Center specializes in mobile apps, TV platforms, communications, innovation, and the digital home.

Ethan Erchinger is VP of Operations and Solutions Architect at Plaxo, where he has managed the company’s Production Operations team for the last ten years, overseeing the servers and networks behind Plaxo’s production network. Ethan’s organization focuses on consistent performance from a scalable infrastructure, while carefully managing operational costs, to meet Plaxo’s promise of high levels of uptime at an appropriate service cost.

Plaxo’s IT environment includes over a dozen racks of database servers. These servers power the consumer website along with the email, scheduling/ calendaring functions, and records for Plaxo’s top-tier customers. The business is experiencing steady growth rates in this tier of customers and Ethan wanted to be confident that his budget would support the additional infrastructure, power, cooling, and floor space required to keep pace with the growth. Ethan considered virtualizing servers to reduce operational and capital expenses, but was hesitant, because virtualizing database servers can introduce I/O latency and his mission-critical database servers required consistent, sustainable performance to meet service level agreements (SLA). Ethan wanted the efficiency and savings of virtualization, but he couldn’t risk performance degradation.

 

Solution

To mitigate performance issues when virtualizing, Ethan considered deploying solid state devices in his servers, and checked the SanDisk® web site for product. While on the website he also read about the company’s FlashSoftTM software for VMware® vSphere®. “FlashSoft sounded exactly like what I needed, so I contacted them for an evaluation copy”, said Ethan. “The FlashSoft team was very responsive. We had the software installed in minutes and were able to start testing.”

“FlashSoft is an incremental addition to my existing infrastructure that helps me separate I/O performance management from storage capacity. And because it delivers sustainable performance for my most critical applications, it gives me the confidence to build out additional infrastructure based on a FlashSoft performance model.”

Ethan Erchinger
VP Operations and Solution Architecture, Plaxo, a Comcast Silicon Valley Innovation Center

Results

The FlashSoft technology exceeded Ethan’s expectations, delivering a 20X performance improvement in some use cases. “There are a number of vendors who say ‘we accelerate virtual machines’, but FlashSoft delivers. FlashSoft is not just a shim that sits in the hypervisor adding more management overhead and causing more work for us,” said Ethan. “With FlashSoft we were able to move forward on plans to virtualize these mission critical database servers and consolidate down to just three racks of servers from twelve. This alone is a huge savings for us”, he added.

In deploying FlashSoft, Ethan also discovered value in server-side caching by reducing I/O overhead on his mid- tier storage arrays. Virtualizing servers typically increases I/O latency, and many IT professionals believe the only way to reduce storage I/O latency is to upgrade to more performant storage. But when Ethan deployed FlashSoft on the server side, the I/O latency issues were addressed at the source, and he continues to use his mid-tier storage arrays with his virtualized database servers. “FlashSoft is an incremental addition to my existing infrastructure that helps me separate I/O performance management from storage capacity. And because it delivers sustainable performance for my most critical applications, it gives me the confidence to build out additional infrastructure based on a FlashSoft performance model,” states Ethan.

FlashSoft can be deployed with existing IT infrastructure without disruption to data management, data protection policies, or IT personnel skills. Using FlashSoft avoids “rip and replace” of existing equipment and allows IT personnel to focus on solving higher level business objectives that contribute to IT as a strategic advantage.

While he is more than pleased with the performance of his servers, being able to virtualize also improves the server uptime. His planned downtime for upgrades and maintenance is much lower for virtualized servers, which is a significant benefit since these servers provide all the data for the website. Ethan explains, “I was looking for a performance improvement for my servers, but FlashSoft has given me so much more. Knowing the systems that provide the data to my web servers are fast, reliable, and easily manageable gives me peace of mind. There aren’t many products I can say that about.”

 

Conclusion

Ethan is able to deliver on Plaxo’s promise of high levels of uptime while keeping the cost of the service down by utilizing FlashSoft for VMware® vSphere® server side caching software. By virtualizing mission critical database applications, further consolidating server deployments, and avoiding costly storage upgrades, Ethan found FlashSoft to be a modest investment that brought significant return for his existing infrastructure.

Why This Matters

Virtualization has changed the way IT infrastructure is deployed and managed. Reducing I/O latency and decoupling storage performance from storage capacity allows a new performance model for virtualized environments enabling greater efficiencies across IT infrastructure.

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