How 1-800-FLOWERS Uses IT to Sustain Its Rapid Growth

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-02-08 Print this article Print

The huge on-demand gift deliverer has revamped its entire IT system to handle skyrocketing online sales growth.

Outside of See's Candies, FTD and Victoria 's Secret, perhaps no other company is more affiliated with Valentine's Day than 1-800-FLOWERS, whose telephone-order service was founded way back in 1976.

The Long Island-based company's Web site,, was one of the true pioneers of the Internet, going online in 1992-before Mosaic/Netscape's graphical browsers were available-and starting business in 1994. It took a while for the online business to grow, just as the entire Internet developed through the '90s.

Besides its Valentine's Day and Mother's Day staple of offering delivery of fresh flowers, also provides plants, gift baskets, gourmet foods, confections and plush stuffed animals. So the company has a complicated job to do.

In the last seven or eight years, business at the publicly-held company has gone gangbusters, leading to some serious challenges for its IT department. The main internal question: How do we keep up with continued skyrocketing demand?

"During our peak periods, our IT transaction level can go as high as 2,400 actions per second," Vivek Subramanian, director of distributed systems for, told eWEEK.

To read about which online retailers customers find most (and least) satisfying, click here.

That, of course, is not the number of business transactions the company does per second, but the number of calculations and queries the company's three huge data centers have to handle during peak periods-such as the four days before Valentine's Day and the two weeks leading up to Mother's Day. The system can handle hundreds of business transactions per second with little or no latency.

"Our whole system is designed to handle peak periods," CIO Steve Bozzo told eWEEK. "That was the main criteria for us in setting up our system, because our business is built on handling high peaks.

"Let's face it: We're men. We don't think about getting gifts for our women until the last minute. That's the way we're made," Bozzo said.

With a complex IT environment supporting a number of brands and types of data, and the company growing rapidly through acquisition, needed to improve data access and availability for its mission-critical customer-facing, Web, financial, inventory, fulfillment and analytical applications. To accomplish this, in 2006 the company consolidated its IT footprint and implemented new data storage technologies, creating a reliable 70-terabyte infrastructure that speeds and streamlines business operations.

All the storage is EMC-based, Subramanian said. It is comprised of high-end Symmetrix DMX and Clariion hardware and EMC 's ControlCenter SRM (storage resource management) software.

"We use IBM WebSphere for our application software, running on Hewlett-Packard servers," Subramanian said, "to go with the EMC storage. We're very much a loyal vendor shop when it comes to our data centers. We have our few favorite vendors and we don't mix it up too much. It can get too complicated if we do."

This infrastructure supports the company's process for handling seasonal peaks in customer orders, which can multiply online traffic 10 to 12 times. Rather than investing in extensive vertical scaling capabilities to accommodate peak loads on a single Web site, utilizes three regional data centers, each supporting two Web sites-one primary and one backup-all seamlessly connected to the company's main URL.

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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