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Streaming apps over blades pays off for Freeze.com

Mark Fontecchio

Waite Park, Minn.-based screensaver provider Freeze.com uses blade servers in a similar way to how school systems use substitute teachers: plugging them in when there's a gap and taking them out when they're no longer needed.

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With the help of Waltham, Mass-based startup Ardence, Inc. , Freeze.com is able to stream the operating system and applications over the network so that servers aren't tied to specific tasks. They become commodities with an engine and memory, ready to do as a data center manager wants them to do.

The flexibility was particularly good for Freeze.com, said IT director Kyle Ohme, because the screensaver, wallpaper and clip art company sees spikes in different areas throughout the day. For example, sometimes more people are downloading screensavers from the company's Web site, and so more blades can be deployed to take up that operation.

At other times, Freeze.com's bank of IBM blades can be switched over to different applications, such as billing or payroll.

" That's what our main goal with this was, was getting racks and racks of blades that don't have any personalities on them," Ohme said. "There is no operating system on the blade whatsoever. We are streaming the actual operating system from the virtual disk down to the blades. There's no external configuration whatsoever. For us it made a lot of sense."

So what does that do? It allows data centers to use fewer blades and get more out of them, rather than having backup blades loafing around, doing nothing, waiting until the extra work is needed or there's a failure.

"Essentially what happens is in the market there is a lot of talk about utility computing," said Jeff Hibbard, vice president of marketing for Ardence. "The goal is to deliver the workload to commodity computers, have it complete that, and then put a completely different workload on that, if you can do that."

Hibbard explained that a company can take a virtual snapshot of its software stack, which then sits on a storage area network (SAN) or network-attached storage (NAS), as Freeze.com does with its stack.

When a blade is put into use, data center managers can provision them with the operating system and applications they need to complete whatever task is crucial at the time.

"I can have a server running Linux and Websphere, and within two minutes, I could have the same server go down and come back up running Linux and data mining," Hibbard said.

For Freeze.com, it proved to be an invaluable resource. The company started six years ago, claims 85 million registered users since its start, and has tens of thousands of clip art images, computer wallpaper images and screensavers. Ohme said the company sees incredible hills and valleys of site traffic throughout the day, and it wanted to be able to use its blades to handle the sudden shifts.

But the flexibility that the blades and Ardence provide wasn't the only reason why it's been good for the company, Ohme said. The IT department also wanted to separate the hardware from the applications to reduce errors.

"When you get into it, failures come from disk and OS. Taking these things away, we designed it for a way not to fail."

Having the virtual snapshot of the software stack also allows the company to troubleshoot, Ohme said. If a processor has a severe spike in activity, the data center manager can take note of the issue, load up an old image of the software and determine if the problem is hardware- or software-related. "We're able to pinpoint issues much quicker than we did in the past," Ohme said.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer

Related Topics: Blade servers, VIEW ALL TOPICS

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