Gilt Shops for an Agile Storage Infrastructure

As an innovator in online flash sales—special deals that are offered at certain times of the day—members-only e-tailer Gilt has to manage huge spikes in traffic and transactional activity. Consequently, building out an efficient and cost-effective IT framework is critical.

“When products go on sale—typically at noon each day—they are accompanied by highly detailed, high-quality images,” says Phong Nguyen, vice president and co-founder of Gilt Groupe. He adds that many of the items come in 20 or 30 different sizes, colors and styles,  “so storage space is a serious challenge.”

The company’s legacy storage environment was near a breaking point. “We had older systems with lots of drives that were filling up,” Nguyen recalls. However, expanding the previous network-attached storage (NAS) technology presented myriad problems, including ensuring that assets and content resided on systems that provided immediate access from different locations.

“We decided to look at alternative technologies and approaches,” she says. “We wanted to find a way to better align our IT infrastructure and storage environment with a framework that enables growth and supports multi-location redundancy.”

Building an Integrated Framework

Gilt turned to storage-as-a-service (STaaS) provider Zadara Storage to introduce far greater IT efficiencies. The firm deployed a Zadara Virtual Private Storage Array (VPSA) along with Amazon Web Services (AWS) compute services to build a framework that better integrates all the data and files.

“We have millions of data files scattered across hundreds of thousands of directories,” Nguyen explains. “Overall, there is more than a petabyte of image files that we maintain.

“The previous environment required heavy IT administration and attention, particularly when we added hardware. There were configuration issues and maintenance issues as well. In some cases, maintenance could take two or three weeks.”

In addition, Nguyen says that the company sometimes had to wait a few weeks to obtain new equipment because it leased equipment through a third-party provider. “They would have to place an order, we would have to wait for it, and then we had to go through the installation process,” he reports. “It was slow and cumbersome.”

The on-demand approach to NAS and a storage area network (SAN) has radically redefined Gilt and built a foundation for the future. Not only does the STaaS solution support the level of agility and flexibility the e-commerce firm requires, it also delivers high availability and high performance—all in a cost-efficient way.

The firm has trimmed its storage expenses by upward of 85 percent and moved to a more effective OPEX financial model that allows changes at any time, Nguyen reports. What’s more, Gilt can use its IT staff—about half a dozen people—far more strategically.

“The staff no longer has to spend time handling basic configuration and administration tasks,” he says. The Zadara Virtual Private Storage Arrays are accessible from every region and office and through any Gilt AWS account.

Gilt will continue expanding the use of the technology, and Nguyen is considering replicating data between key locations and tapping into other Zadara data protection features, such as the Backup to S3 (B2S3) option, that lets users replicate data to cost-effective Amazon S3 object-based targets.

“We have experienced performance gains while saving money,” he says. “It’s the best of both worlds.”