Overcoming Webmail’s Exasperating Storage Problems
Webmail’s value is often quickly consumed by the high operational costs of traditional storage.
Nonstop exponential data storage growth is never more evident than with a webmail service provider, where just a small change in the number of users can cause stored data to expand by multiple orders of magnitudes. Unstructured data such as user photos, blogs, and videos rapidly consume storage. Many users treat their webmail mailboxes as their searchable personal storage. This keeps unstructured data attachments in the email, consuming large amounts of storage space.
Key Webmail Market Challenges with Traditional Data Storage
Traditional storage systems were not created with webmail in mind. Webmail cannot ever be down or users will quickly look for another more reliable mail service provider. This presents a number of challenges that traditional storage systems are simply not able to meet in a fully satisfactory fashion:
- Incapacity to scale webmail effectively to millions of users – Traditional solutions lead to storage system sprawl, with excessive expenditures of time and money on management, infrastructure, and ongoing data migrations—all in an ultimately futile effort to chase down the root causes of data storage and retrieval problems.
- Complexity of operations and management – Webmail is mission critical to maintaining customers, but providing the supporting storage can be an exercise in frustration. From volume management to tiering (intra- or inter-system) to tech refreshes, operations and management are an administrator’s night mare with traditional storage systems.
- Excessive HA and DR costs and complications – With traditional storage, high availability and disaster recovery are predicated on storing multiple copies of data. Expensive hardware and data center doubling (or even tripling) to accommodate the explosion in data add to storage system complexity and lead ultimately to operator and customer frustration.
- Exceedingly High TCO – Total cost of ownership is based on a model that does not work for webmail organizations, and makes the webmail service too expensive for an effective return on investment.
Historically, webmail service storage consumption accelerates per user over time. Traditional or legacy storage makes life quite complicated for the webmail storage administrator in meeting the challenge of exponential data growth, with common workarounds leading to storage system sprawl that exponentially increase administration costs.
Traditional storage is incapable of maintaining availability without convoluted impractical implementations. During a tech refresh, data migration alone will severely impact webmail uptime and availability. In corner cases where traditional storage can meet webmail challenges, it does so at such an exceedingly high cost (both upfront and ongoing), making it financially untenable for the business.
Essential Webmail Storage Requirements
It doesn’t take many webmail users to quickly consume PBs of capacity and billions of email objects. Storage must be capable of scaling online and non-disruptively to meet webmail growth demands. Storage administration must be intuitive and capable of being performed by all staff with minimal training. To be effective, webmail must satisfy all of the following requirements:
- Ability to scale to billions of objects while maintaining performance transparently for all users without disruption – PBs to EBs of capacity, billions of email objects in a single namespace, and user satisfactory performance for millions of concurrent users
- Intuitive storage management – No demanding training or knowledge required. All, or at least, most operations, including expansion and tech refresh, must be performed online with no scheduled downtime.
- Full integration with webmail standards – Should be compatible with webmail clients using OPWV, Zimbra, Dovecot, and Cyrus.
- Always available and online – Must provide at least five nines (99.999%) availability all the time.
- Low total cost of ownership - Providing webmail can be a strategy for obtaining and retaining ISP customers, but only if the costs do not exceed the benefits.
Webmail is critical to most users and cannot be perceived as unreliable, requiring it to be available at all times. Essentially, webmail must compete with Google’s free Gmail to be competitive. To do that, the storage system must be adaptive, flexible, always online, and inherently capable of providing all scheduled and unscheduled maintenance without user disruptions—not just at implementation, but ongoing, and for every software and hardware tech refresh.
Storage is undoubtedly one of webmail’s largest cost components, with an outsized effect on whether or not requirements can be met. Webmail storage must meet or exceed requirements at the lowest possible ongoing TCO for it to be a viable service offering.
The Solution: Scality RING™ Organic Storage
Scality RING Organic Storage is architected from the ground up to meet and exceed all webmail provider requirements. It scales capacity into the exabytes, email objects into the billions, and does so easily, online, and intuitively. This scalability is the direct result of RING’s unique Distributed Hash Table (DHT). DHT is an extraordinarily efficient lookup methodology that enables retrieval of files or objects from very large numbers of storage nodes at an exceedingly high level of performance.
Scality RING Organic Storage provides unparalleled data, nodal, and system availability by leveraging its distinctive industry-hardened, carrier-grade peer-to-peer technology. The RING also comes with unequalled built-in system data resilience similar to an organic immune system. Every node constantly monitors a limited number of its peers, automatically rebalancing replicas and load to make the system fully self-healing without human intervention. Consistent hashing guarantees that only a small subset of keys is ever affected by a node failure or removal.
The RING also rebalances the data load automatically when a node fails, is removed or upgraded, or when new nodes are added. RING makes technology refresh a simple, online process with no application disruptions, eliminating data migration, long nights, and sleepless weekends. The result is a very high level of fault tolerance because the system stays reliable even with nodes joining or leaving the ring. The key to keeping costs low is through the use of standard off-the-shelf commodity server nodes and an industry paradigm shifting pay-by-the-drink (pay-per-use) model. Unlike traditional storage, Scality RING is charged on usable capacity, not raw storage capacity, thus ultimately delivering the lowest possible storage TCO.