A provider of hosting services has built a diskless server-based offering by using network-attached storage (NAS) to provide all storage services to its servers and the applications running in them. It did this to remove the single largest cause of server downtime from its IT offering.

Ultraspeed offers dedicated and managed servers for all types of customers, ranging from some of the largest UK government agencies and online Internet portals, to smaller Internet design firms that maintain websites for clients.

UltraSpeed's business depends upon the availability and speed of its IT infrastructure and it has gone the extra mile in ensuring this with its Diskless Server System (DSS) offering.

Michael Shanks, Ultraspeed's technical director, said: “DSS was born out of personal frustration with hard disk failure and lengthy backup restoration procedures. It didn’t seem right that our clients, and their customers, should be at the mercy of one failed component that bring their business grinding to a halt. By removing the single biggest causes of failure in traditional server environments Ultraspeed is bringing new levels of reliability to the market.”

The company has an inner London-sited datacentre, a high-availability, high security centre with closely-controlled access, backup power supplies and so forth.

The datacentre is designed with cabling removed from the underfloor space and placed above the racks. Power and air-conditioning is delivered underfloor. This enable a hot aisle/cold aisle rack cabinet design which increases cooling efficiency.

Network access to and upstream from it, via tier 1 carriers, is via a high-speed network. Ultraspeed deploys a core network made up of industry standard Cisco, combined with its own software based routers. Clusters and pairs of devices are deployed at key points in the network, which is dedicated to Ultraspeed's customers. This network has maintained five nines availability for the past two and a half years.

The servers have no direct-access storage (DAS) hard drives at all, which means no moving parts, and they are booted from the NAS drives via gigabit Ethernet connections.

All data is continually replicated and should an individual NAS hard disk fail, it is swapped out and the replacement is automatically populated with data without the customer being affected. This contrasts with traditional server environments in which hard disk failure can result in the server being ‘knocked out’ completely while the disk is replaced and re-populated with data from the last backup.

With the Ultraspeed NAS-backed diskless-server design customers don't even notice if a NAS disk drive fails.

The NAS storage is provided by BlueArc Titan 2000 products. Why did Ultraspeed choose this?

Jordan Gross, Ultraspeed's commercial director, said: "We wanted to invest in a product that would give us the most value and enable us to scale with our growing customer base without sacrificing the quality of our service at any step along the way. We've deployed Titan 2000 for the long haul. BlueArc was able to offer us extremely impressive performance, reduced management costs and future-proof scalability."

In addition to the DSS’ backup and recovery systems, customer servers are automatically “snapshotted” (a record is created of all data and configurations) on a daily basis.

Ultraspeed says that its DSS platform can perform 100,000 disk operations per second, while the average Fibre Channel local disk-based server manages up to 270. Though DSS was primarily designed to remove failure points and ensure the integrity and availability of customer data, there is an extra benefit. Ultraspeed customers report a significant increase in response times. Also storage upgrades are available simply by changing customer allocations inside the NAS arrays. Finally the platform provides approximately 10 percent power savings over a traditional implementation.

Ultraspeed has seen a dramatic reduction in the hours its staff spends on reloading and updating its system. By building out its service offering with BlueArc, Ultraspeed is now cost-effectively growing, reaching higher levels of reliability, and almost eliminating user downtime.

Steve Daheb, marketing and business development VP for BlueArc, said: "We're extremely pleased ... Ultraspeed chose Titan as the building block for its diskless server platform and we're looking forward to fueling the company's growth for years to come."

Ultraspeed customers already using the DSS service include 2View Group, provider of the capital’s entertainment website ViewLondon.co.uk and online brokerage, Primrose Mortgage Processing.

Lloyd Nicholson-Taylor at 2View Group said: “With a growing web farm serving 1.4 million Viewlondon.co.uk users every month we wanted a solution that delivers reliability, redundancy and speed of access. Ultraspeed’s DSS provides all three and allows us to scale the web farm very quickly to cope with increasing user numbers.”

Gross said: “As a company we feel customers are entitled to expect the very highest levels of reliability possible. DSS is a genuine ‘world first’ and will give our customers peace of mind that their data is in the safest hands possible.”