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Up to the clouds: improving the customer's gallery

05.09.10 (Tech Stuff)
Our fine art gallery and customer galleries was until now running from co-located server at 1&1 Internet AG with frontend based on virtual server with Plesk management.

Some background
If you are into technical details, we just had configured dedicated virtual server to handle the user interface (displaying, searching, logging, user management, prints ordering, etc) and had dedicated physical NAS server on the same backbone stuffed with Seagate ES2 hard drives in RAID5 mode to give us about 1500GB capacity (yes the gallery is HUGE). This have been running for us very well and except few upgrades there were not serious down-times or issues for over 5 years. Mainly because we planed it well ahead.

Second gallery system we are using is used for our customers. Basically when you make photoshoot or project with us, all images we make, go into the password protected gallery where only you have access. There are also all full size downloads which customers order, digital negatives or whatever files are relevant to given customer/project. You can imagine how huge this gallery is and how fast it grows. We were able to keep it under 4 GBs because we were deleting galleries of customers who didn't logged in for over year and we had backups separate from the web.

Requirements:
Here is list of needs I've written down before deciding on new system for those two our galleries.

- Price (we don't want to rise our service prices too much ;) )
- Scalability (we don't want to move the data to new bigger server when need arise and we don't want to pay for space we don't use - yet)
- Performance worldwide (fast downloads and browsing)
- Safety (our customer's data need to be safe)
- Reliability (we are not in health care industry but we don't want sad customers)
- Transparency for customers (existing passwords, addresses need to work)

So we were looking for one shop solution for our second off-site backup and huge web accessible storage for our two galleries. Initial requirement was 2 TB of storage just for the galleries and 4 TB for the future backups.

The winner:
While cloud computing is a buzzword of just last two years, Amazon is sure no newbie on the internet. They have very good reputation in online business and even their marketplace seems to be running well. What probably not everybody knows is, that Amazon is also an IT service provider. One of those services is EC2 - Computing cloud. Simply said you can create virtual servers which scale (and you are billed) exactly as your needs are. You pay for used resources (as performance, downloads, storage) but don't need to pay for any excess or make any upgrades. They have amazing availability record of three nines (99,9%) and performance is very good as well. There are no limits on storage - you just pay what you actually use, no need to plan ahead, buy bigger hard drives and then in one year be confused again how fast those new cameras fill them up.

What it means for our customers:
You will not notice much except, that probably there will be better performance most of the time. 1&1 was running quite fine, but they had their days when we were pulling hairs off... There will be from now on also many improvements which our customers will not see immediately but affects them a lot.

- Bigger default images for fine art gallery
- Bigger default images for customer's gallery
- Default compression on JPEGs is 0%, what means nicer looking files
- No customers galleries will get deleted
- DVD with licensed images will be also available for download instead of waiting for post to deliver it
- Third backup destination for all our projects
- 99,9% instead of 98,7% availability

What it means for us:
For us that means right now over 200Eur of connection costs monthly saved while improving the user experience. Not bad, is it? Wait there is more.
Imagine that we will have in one gallery system all images we ever made. Not just completed artworks, but all images done for customers, on holidays or just for fun. With keyword search and high enough quality to just download it and use for print. Still not enough? We get backup for our project and customer's files in two foreign countries on completely independent system - far away from hard drive reliability issues or dependency on one provider. Encrypted and safe.
Upload of initial batch of data was simple as well. While with other providers, you need to stretch your connection limits and scratch your head how to move between servers hundreds of GBs of data, we just sent one 1,5TB Seagate USB hard drive (Extreme edition even had required plugs for UK where AWS are located) and in three days data were visible on our virtual web server and yesterday came the hard drive back. Neat, right?
Sorry if it sounds like advertising, but we were answering often questions related to backup or gallery questions so here it is just black on white what is going on. (That is what blog is for right?)
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