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, 1-800-FLOWERS.com, 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, 1-800-FLOWERS.com 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 1-800-FLOWERS.com, told eWEEK.
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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, 1-800-FLOWERS.com 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, 1-800-FLOWERS.com utilizes three regional data centers, each supporting two Web sites-one primary and one backup-all seamlessly connected to the company's main URL.