Shopzilla deals with the Godzilla of shopping days

What it took to withstand the holiday season load

Burzin Engineer spends the entire year getting ready for three Mondays in November and December.

That's because Engineer is senior director of infrastructure services at Shopzilla, a Los Angeles online retailer of 60 million products from 70,000 merchants. Its site has traditionally had a system load 60 percent higher than normal on the three Mondays after Thanksgiving, as well as the day after Thanksgiving. But unlike vendors such as Wal-Mart Stores, which had Web site crashes last Friday, Shopzilla stayed up.

Engineer started out a year and a half ago by replacing his existing storage-area network products, from two vendors he did not wish to name, with a Bobcat 2280 NAS Gateway from ONStor and InServ Storage Servers from 3PARdata. He said he needed to do this because he was seeing 100 percent growth every year and his previous products were not flexible enough to accommodate such rapid growth. For example, if Engineer added 12 spindles to the 40 he already had, Shopzilla's system would not take full advantage of the new spindles unless he stopped operations and moved data around. "When a company doubles its size every six to eight months, that's not a desirable place to be," he said.

The 3PAR product lets him dynamically reallocate data and redistribute it across drives without having to take them down, Engineer said. In addition, it has enabled him to reduce operational costs because it is much easier to configure than competing SANs. For example, it now takes 20 minutes to migrate an Oracle application, when he had planned for three days.

Engineer said he chose the ONStor product because it can work with many different kinds of disk drives, enabling him to repurpose disks after a technology refresh or a change in technology direction. None of the other vendors he looked at, which he did not want to name, were as open, he said. Engineer would not say how much he had paid for the products.

For this year, Engineer beefed up the system from a two-node Bobcat 2280 cluster to four, for a total of around 50TB, he said. The devices hold about 100 million images used by Shopzilla's content-delivery network.

While the brick-and-mortar world calls the day after Thanksgiving "Black Friday" due to its overwhelming sales, in the online shopping world, Mondays are heavier, with people checking out specials as soon as they arrive at work in the morning. And, typically the biggest day is the Monday that arrives about two weeks before Christmas, which this year is Dec. 11, Engineer said.

Online vendors have a real catch-22 on these busy days, Engineer said. They don't want to touch the system and put any additional strain on it, yet at the same time, that's the day when they most need to be able to offer data refreshes as vendors change stock and pricing information -- which puts a load on the system. The combination of the two products lets him keep the data current, Engineer said.

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