Dot.com company opts for storage outsourcing

TeVeo Inc. turned to Intira for outsourcing services that include demanding storage requirements.

By Elizabeth M. Ferrarini

Unplanned storage growth to 30TB and random server outages won't mix well with anticipated traffic from 20,000 live Webcams. TeVeo Inc., a three-year-old "dot.com" in Mountain View, CA, realized its dilemma within months after outsourcing its Web site hosting. Before it could go forward, TeVeo had to step back and define its storage infrastructure, and then find a firm that could manage every aspect of it.

TeVeo's business lies in its Castillian name-to see. The more Webcams on the site, the more revenue the company can generate from banner ads and promotions with Webcam manufacturers. Current traffic on the site comes from two sources: software downloads and Webcam streaming. The site's free TeVeo Live software enables anyone to make Windows-based Webcams available via the Web. The site also maintains a directory of TeVeo Live users and hosts links to users' Webcams. About 100 Webcams currently appear on the site at any one time.

TeVeo got the site off the ground quickly by outsourcing the hosting to digitalNATION Inc., in Alexandria, VA, which put the site on Windows NT servers with internal RAID arrays. However, these servers could not handle the I/O processor pounding caused by the high volume of Webcam page turns. Server outages resulted, and emergency backups became the norm. Database replication became necessary for several servers.

Joyce Cooper, TeVeo's Web technology architect, had to compute the extent of each outage to see if it was within the boundaries of the service level agreement (SLA).

"It wasn't digitalNATION's fault it couldn't handle the site's traffic and scale the storage for us. These issues turned out to be more complicated than our engineers had expected," she says.

In the interim, TeVeo contracted with Intira Inc., an IT outsourcing services firm in Pleasanton, CA, for some design help with these issues.

The total storage services market is expected to grow from $8.1 billion in 1998 to more than $21 billion in 2003. Storage services for "dot.com" companies is the fastest-growing segment.
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"Buying servers and managing them in-house didn't appeal to us. The demands of our application stretched our IT staff," says Cooper. Therfore, digitalNATION continued to maintain the servers.

Meanwhile, Cooper methodically studied the site's storage capacity and performance requirements. She also looked at expected traffic and storage needed as a result of promotions in the pipeline. Other factors included the 100 or so Webcams coming at any one time from the 30,000 TeVeo Live users. Based on these parameters, Cooper calculated what the storage requirements would be if the site continued to offer its free products.

TeVeo's new products include an en-hanced, for-sale version of the Webcam software and a fee-based storage allotment so users can make their Webcam or camcorder videos available on-demand to others. Cooper also studied the storage capacity and performance requirements for these products to be available across several Web sites. Data from Intira's consulting design work helped with this phase of the study.

Cooper based her calculations for six quarters, starting at the end of this year and going halfway through 2002. Together, the sites had to be able to support up to 20,000 live Webcams. Storage needed for the free software and free Webcam streaming came to 0.5TB. Storage for the on-demand video hosting would start off at 5TB and grow to 10TB after several quarters.

With this information, Cooper prepared a request for proposal (RFP) based on the site's storage requirements for six quarters. All the IT outsourcing firms that responded to the RFP offered a complete infrastructure, including data centers with server and storage hardware, switching equipment, and IT personnel.

"Partnering with a services provider that could handle everything offered more capabilities than a traditional Web-hosting service," says Cooper, who also a conducted buy-versus-build comparison to look at the potential cost advantages of outsourcing.

Cooper evaluated each IT outsourcing service based on how well it managed three areas: networking management, facilities management, and systems management, especially storage.

Exodus Communications Inc., which is moving from a data center business to a managed IT service, proposed EMC's Symmetrix arrays through StorageNetworks Inc. (SNI), a third-party storage services provider (SSP).

"The proposed cost was very expensive, and didn't fit our business model," says Cooper. Exodus submitted a new proposal with third-party services offered by SiteSmith Inc. "Again, it was expensive and the storage solution didn't seem well coordinated," she says.

A spin-off from GTE Networking Corp., Genuity Inc., in Burlington, MA, made several different proposals. "They offered a good plan with good network management capabilities. However, the storage was weak and couldn't scale," says Cooper.

In the end, Cooper selected Intira. She says, "It excelled in all areas, and offered us a tremendous deal. Immediately, we'd be saving about $500,000 versus leasing EMC's Symmetrix." Unlike Exodus, Intira deals directly with EMC so there is no third-party service to manage. Intira proposed a storage system that could scale to 28TB.

TeVeo's Web sites will reside at Intira's main data center in Pleasanton, several miles away from TeVeo's offices. The site will start out with 10 Windows NT servers front-ending an EMC Symmetrix array in a Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN) configuration. Intira will handle all of the storage management, such as space utilization functions, using EMC's ControlCenter.

The site won't be fully operational at Intira until year-end. However, Intira has started to plan schedules for backup and cutover procedures for the servers from digitalNATION. Intira's site plan is based on forecasts for storage requirements. Thresholds will be set for specific storage amounts, and monitored for usage.

The network side of TeVeo's site will be managed through the SNMP-based management suite used by Intira's customer support center. However, Cooper will have a window into all of the management functions, including systems, network, and storage. Intira has written some application code to sit on top of its SNMP site. This software will enable TeVeo's virtual private network to link directly into the site.

Cooper is confident about the relationship between Intira and TeVeo, and between Intira and EMC. "This arrangement could save us about $2 million after 18 months," she estimates.

The outsourcing relationship will also help leverage some of TeVeo's development efforts. For example, to carry out its plan to resell storage space, TeVeo will need an accounting system that can track the amount of disk space used and the amount paid. "An application we're developing will sit on top of the EMC management suite and show us the amount of allocated storage," Cooper explains.

Cooper says she has talked to Intira and EMC about some new technology for setting up streaming media servers. She says, "We can piggyback on our partnership since we can't afford to finance these efforts from our own engineering."

Of course, the SLA stands as the one quantifier for accessing a relationship with any type of outsourcing firm. Unlike other IT outsourcing services providers, Intira offers one SLA metric based on a 99.95% application availability, which includes all of the components contributing to application availability.

Elizabeth M. Ferrarini is a Boston-based freelance writer.

This article was originally published on October 01, 2000