VAR Deveops Photo Firm Relationship

PhotoChannel provides digital photo uploading, editing and online management services to photo retailers and photographers, said Mo Asgri, vice president of technology at the Vancouver-based firm.

The company also set up the PhotoChannel Network, whereby customers can upload digital photos and order prints online and then have the order sent to a local photo shop for processing and pickup.


>> COMPANY: Seven Group, Burnaby, British Columbia
>> FOCUS: Data management solutions
>> PROBLEM & SOLUTION: Seven Group built a SAN for PhotoChannel Networks' U.S. office, recertified it after a move and then replaced the SAN array.
>> PRODUCTS & SERVICES USED: Hitachi Data Systems 7700e array, replaced by a StorageTek D176; Sun servers; JNI host-bus adapters.
> Good customer service can lead to more opportunities.
> Technical competence in a wide range of products gets the initial deal and a first crack at future deals.

In 2000, the company decided to add direct print fulfillment services for consumers. However, the cost of online storage for those huge 2-Mbyte-to-4-Mbyte photo files was too high, Asgri said. Instead, PhotoChannel decided to deploy a hierarchical storage management system with a SAN for serving thumbnails of the images, along with a tape library for serving up the full images.

PhotoChannel had recently brought in Seven Group, a Burnaby, British Columbia-based solution provider, to handle the installation of an Oracle Discoverer license on its IBM servers. IBM was having trouble installing the license, but Seven Group quickly solved the problem, and shortly thereafter won the deal to build PhotoChannel's SAN, said Anthony Brown, managing director of business development and a principal at the solution provider. "So our $6,000 deal turned into a $2 [million] to $3 million deal," he said.

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Seven Group in late 2000 configured PhotoChannel's Stamford, Conn.-based data center using Compaq Computer servers for the Web environment, Sun Microsystems hardware for the database servers, and a Hitachi Data Systems 7700e array with 250 Gbytes of capacity managed with software from Veritas Software.

Seven Group initially had trouble with the Fibre Channel host-bus adapters, which it could not get to work in the Sun servers. Eventually, it brought in new adapters from San Diego-based JNI that worked on the first try, Brown said.

When the installation was scheduled to begin, the data center was not yet fully built, Brown said. "So we had millions of dollars in equipment there, but no power and no raised floor," he said. "But we stayed. We covered everything with plastic and got the contractor to paint the walls and put in the tiles. We brought in seven small American Power Conversion UPSes that we used in our own office. I was even screwing racks together at 2:00 a.m. But we got it done in time."

In time to move the whole installation, as it turned out. Six months after the data center was put into operation, PhotoChannel realized its consumer-oriented photo service was competing with that of its retail customers, Asgri said. So, PhotoChannel migrated its system back to its old IBM servers in Vancouver and moved the SAN to Vancouver, where it fired up immediately, thanks to Seven Group's design, Asgri said.

PhotoChannel actually moved the SAN itself, calling upon Seven Group to help recertify the Hitachi Data array once the move was complete, Brown said.

Just before last Christmas, PhotoChannel contacted Seven Group again, this time about expanding the capacity of the array by another 250 Gbytes. The age of the system meant that the new disks would cost about $25,000, so Brown contacted StorageTek about swapping out the array. The answer was the vendor's D176 array, which Brown said is faster than the Hitachi 7700e and provides more than a full Tbyte of data. The JNI adapters worked with only a firmware upgrade, he said.

With the trade, the price was only $25,000, Brown said. "We got very, very aggressive pricing from StorageTek," he said. "Maintenance was also dramatically lower than with [Hitachi]."

So PhotoChannel got an extra Tbyte of storage and increased performance, Brown said. "Needless to say, PhotoChannel is happy with us again," he said. They're happy with StorageTek, too. One time, they needed a tape library in an emergency. The local StorageTek rep for British Columbia, Rob Kyle, drove one out to Mo's house on the weekend."