PNI Digital Media operates the PNI Digital Media Platform, which provides transaction processing and order routing services for major retailers. The PNI Digital Media Platform connects consumer-ordered digital content, whether from online sources, in-store kiosks, desktop software, or mobile phones, with retailers that have on-demand manufacturing capabilities for the production of personalized products such as photos, photo books, photo calendars, business cards, and stationery. PNI Digital Media successfully generates millions of transactions each year for retailers and their thousands of locations worldwide.

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Providing ready access to millions of digital photographs

The PNI Digital Media Platform provides transaction processing and order routing services for its retail clients. The on-demand ordering capabilities allow consumers to easily place personal photo product orders via the Web, in‑store kiosks, desktop software, and mobile phones. PNI stores petabytes of consumer data and generates millions of transactions each year for retailers at thousands of locations worldwide. The company’s big data storage requirements continue to grow right along with its system performance requirements.

“We store millions of digital photographs, with millions accessed daily by consumers and the fulfillment labs that process their orders,” says Zack Wickes, vice president of Technology at PNI. “Through acquisitions and successful business operations, we’ve increased our number of retail partners we work with from 2,000 to almost 20,000 in just a few years. In the past 6 years, we’ve seen a 900% increase in transactions. This plus the massive increase in digital images uploaded by consumers demanded a more robust and highly scalable storage infrastructure.”

PNI needed an enterprise-class storage infrastructure with centralized management that provided easy provisioning and performance monitoring. The company also needed a flexible storage solution that met its diverse needs—from advanced performance to effective archival processes. The company selected NetApp storage based on its ability to deliver rapid I/O processing, especially during the holidays and other peak ordering periods.

Just as important, PNI chose NetApp for the technology partnership it would gain as a result. “We wanted more than a storage vendor,” Wickes emphasized. “NetApp understands how dependent our business is on storage, particularly the continuous uptime of the storage platform. NetApp worked closely with us to help ensure the storage infrastructure met our demanding performance requirements and allowed us to meet our big data needs for our clients and their customers.”

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Accelerated processing for data-intensive workloads

PNI relies on NetApp FAS6280HA, FAS3270HA, and FAS3170HAstorage systems and the Data ONTAP® 8 operating system to host rich media data at production datacenters in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Toronto, Ontario. NetApp helps the company support almost 20,000 retail locations in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom and to provide on-demand access to nearly 1 billion digital images through online fulfillment partners and in-store retail kiosks. Customers can choose to have their personal photo products delivered to the retail store providing the service or to a residential or business address.

PNI leverages NetApp Virtual Storage Tier implemented with Flash Cache intelligent caching on the FAS6280 storage system to boost the processing performance of its 1.5 billion files. Using SATA drives with Flash Cache for its critical workloads, the company reduces storage costs and latency for accelerated access to photo imagery by consumers and fulfillment labs. Centralized storage management and performance monitoring help the IT staff optimize the NetApp storage environment.

“We have massive metadata to cache and manage on our NetApp storage systems,” says Wickes. “With consumers uploading multiple versions of each digital image to the PNI Digital Media Platform, we’re up to 950 million images and 3PB of data stored on NetApp, and our big data storage requirements continue to grow. NetApp offers us the high performance we need in our data-intensive environment and the ability to scale our storage infrastructure as our business expands.”

NetApp helps PNI optimize its IT infrastructure with multiprotocol support that provides the flexibility to leverage the connectivity that best meets the needs of the workload and the available budgets. NetApp supports the easy management and failover inherent in 10GbE connectivity, which PNI uses for its high-bandwidth workloads, as well as CIFS for PNI’s Windows® file servers.


NetApp Products

FAS6280HA storage system
FAS3270HAstorage systems
FAS3170HAstorage system
Data ONTAP 8
Flash Cache
Third-Party Products
Microsoft® SharePoint® Server

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  • Support more than 18 million revenue-generating transactions annually
  • Maintain 100% uptime even during holidays when transactions can increase 6 to 10 times
  • Enhance performance with NetApp Flash Cache
  • Scale to accommodate a 900% increase in transactions in the past 6 years

Driving high-transaction processing and revenue

The company’s business model involves earning revenue per transaction, which comprises 76% of its overall revenue. Every time a consumer accesses his or her digital images stored on the PNI Digital Media Platform and orders photo products through a retailer, PNI profits.

PNI depends on advanced NetApp system performance and uptime to support its business model and deliver superior customer service. With 24 cores and 192GB of memory, the high-performance FAS6280HAsystem takes full advantage of the 64-bit Data ONTAP 8 operating system.

A substantial percentage of PNI’s revenue is generated during the holidays, when transaction processing increases significantly. Although about 4 million users access the PNI Digital Media Platform in September, approximately 12 million access it in December. One out of every four holiday photo cards ordered in the United States is ordered via the PNI Digital Media Platform. PNI capitalizes on holiday volume and the reliability of NetApp storage performance during peak transaction times.

“On a peak day during our last holiday season, we transferred approximately 100 million digital images for consumers ordering 16 million greeting cards, 25,000 photo books, and 40,000 photo calendars,” says Wickes. “NetApp FAS6280HA storage system performance and uptime are key to our ability to handle big bandwidth requirements during peak times. NetApp has helped us maintain 100% uptime while managing a 6 to 10 times increase in photo order transactions through recent holiday seasons.”

Beyond the busy holiday season, NetApp helps drive more than 18 million fast, revenue-generating transactions annually. “If our system is slow, consumers will either order less or they’ll simply use another retailer supported by another company’s digital media platform,” emphasizes Wickes. “It’s that simple. Downtime costs us dearly in lost revenue, and it also impacts the bottom line of our retail partners, so we just can’t have it.”

Growing data and a growing partnership

With a steep growth trajectory, PNI went on the offensive to ensure that it had the infrastructure in place to support its growth path. Although all companies must accommodate data growth, PNI especially depends on storage scalability and flexibility given the sheer magnitude of data growth in recent years and projections for the coming years. The FAS6280HAstorage system supports PNI’s big data growth path, scaling to over 4PB.

“We’re a high-I/O business, unlike other companies that need storage strictly for archival purposes,” notes Wickes. “We’ve experienced a 900% increase in transactions in the past 6 years and continuous growth in the amount of digital images uploaded by consumers to our datacenter. Yet we also have enormous capacity requirements given our petabytes of digital imagery data. NetApp meets our intensive performance requirements and also offers the scalability and simplified provisioning we need as well as an easy upgrade path to accommodate growth.”

Growth will include expanded services in the near future. The company is currently investing resources to develop two new platforms: an on-demand printing solution for small businesses and a social-stationery solution.

Wickes explains how NetApp’s partnership with PNI is fundamental to meeting its dynamic business requirements. “NetApp understands our business and understands our pain points, which helps ensure we have the right storage solution for our complex transactional environment,” he says. “In addition, we don’t have to explain our business every time we call NetApp Professional Services. We’ve received the same personalized support from the same individuals for years now, which is a huge asset to our storage environment and the ROI of our storage investment. We expect our business to continue to grow, and we expect NetApp to grow with us.”

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