by Mark Jones, Director Technical Marketing, Emulex and President, Fibre Channel Industry Association

AOL offers services to over 24 million mail users and manages content and advertisement for 56 of the best known destination brand websites – such as The Huffington Post, Moviefone and MapQuest. When the company was looking for the most reliable storage solution, they standardized on the Trusted Foundation— Fibre Channel.

“We are more reliant than ever on an IT infrastructure that delivers consistent reliable data,” said Dan Pollack, Chief Storage Architect, AOL. “Fibre Channel provides this and enables us to capitalize on increased business efficiencies through improved utilization rates.”

Listen to Polack talk about how the need for shared storage and sustained performance in a short, informative video on the Fibre Channel Industry Association’s (FCIA’s) Knowledge Vault. 

AOL SAN Responsibilities

AOL manages a diverse network of sites that needs to reach a global audience on every platform that includes more than 20 Petabytes of stored data, and spans secure interconnected data centers from coast-to-coast. Their storage environment must be capable of both storing massive quantities of data and retrieving and delivering that data reliably every time a valued AOL member request is received.

“Data availability is a primary concern of ours,” said Pollack.  “It’s imperative that our consumers have access to information and therefore necessary for us to operate highly available data centers at the highest efficiencies to minimize associated costs.”

Building a Highly Available and Reliable Storage Solution

For AOL to provide the necessary level of availability, a complex, multi-redundant, distributed and highly virtualized server-to-storage backend network has been employed. A requirement was to virtualize the block-level storage in order to properly segregate each data repository. Multiple storage zones needed to be created to help ensure availability during backups, and ongoing maintenance.

A Fibre Channel solution was deployed that allowed for 50 percent of any sites storage to go off line due to maintenance, while still providing availability of the required data stores to maintain business continuity. Perhaps a challenge for other storage technologies, these requirements are routine for Fibre Channel.

Business Results

The following were among the advantages AOL realized by deploying Fibre Channel:

Increased Reliability: Fibre Channel’s integrated diagnostics, monitoring and simplified management functionality seamlessly allowed for progressive expansion and increased resiliency throughout the company’s expansion. 

Improved Utilization Rates: In a highly virtualized environment, consolidate IO can place critical strain on storage resources. Implementing Fibre Channel architecture helps to alleviate IO discrepancies and allow AOL to operate at the highest utilization ratios

Elastic Scalability: AOL has transitioned from monolithic storage to today’s virtualized, scale out environment with distributed storage resources while in the process adopting a block virtualization infrastructure and zoning for segregation of data repositories. Fibre Channel has proven it can easily scale up and down in response to AOL’s needs. 

A Closing Note on Fibre Channel

One begins to understand why AOL and other enterprise companies such as Rackspace trust Fibre Channel for their critical storage needs. They realize that data connectivity is more than just about performance and must include reliability, scalability, and virtualization capabilities as well as data integrity, operational simplicity, and manageability.

Whether your storage infrastructure is providing content to consumers such as AOL’s or if you are a small enterprise, Fibre Channel continues to prove its superior value in each of these areas, and demonstrates why it is the purpose-built storage solution of today and tomorrow.