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Posted: 3/7/2012
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Home Shopping Network Multichannel Retailer Boosts Availability of Critical Applications and Supports Growth

Florida-based HSN is a popular retailer that sells products on television and online to 96 million homes. The company wanted to continue to increase availability levels and reduce failover times for several mission-critical applications. By implementing a new Microsoft solution, HSN can better support growth plans and can offer customers and business partners highly available digital platforms. In addition, HSN will reduce application failover times from 40 seconds to almost 3 seconds.

Business Needs

HSN is a leading, interactive, multichannel retailer that sells a range of brand-name products through a popular television channel and multiple digital screens including the web and mobile. Every day, the HSN television channel broadcasts live to 96 million people in the United States. The website, HSN.com, is a top-10 e-commerce site featuring more than 15,000 product videos.

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* As HSN grows its business, Microsoft SQL Server 2012 will be used as the foundation for our database platform across all digital screens, driving higher levels of redundancy while maintaining a consistent commerce experience at all transaction volumes.  *

Hany Kaiser
Operating Vice President of Technology
HSN

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To best serve its customers and business partners, HSN must ensure high availability for several high-profile mission-critical applications. The company’s customer forums, for example, are used daily by 2,000 customers who talk about popular products on sale that day. “Forums might not seem critical, but if there’s a technical issue in the forums, our customer service employees are inundated with calls. People depend on those forums being available at all times,” says Joe Ayres, Senior Manager of Database Administration, HSN.

HSN also maintains a business-to-business application that is used daily by hundreds of product suppliers. “That application is the main communication channel between HSN and the business partners who sell us products, so high availability is essential,” says Ayres.

Driving higher availability levels for its database platform and ensuring that back-end maintenance activities are seamless to the business are keys to providing a better shopping experience and promoting the company’s success.

In early 2011, HSN began looking for a new high-availability solution.

Solution

HSN chose Microsoft as the technology provider for its new solution. “We didn’t feel the need to evaluate other solutions. Microsoft SQL Server has powered our e-commerce transactional engine for the past few years, enabling us to stay ahead of the business requirements, and we continue to capitalize on a solid foundation.” says Hany Kaiser, Operating Vice President of Technology, HSN.

HSN was interested in Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise data management software and specifically wanted to take advantage of SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn, a high-availability and disaster-recovery solution. AlwaysOn includes availability groups, which support failover capabilities for multiple databases that fail over together. AlwaysOn also offers readable database-mirror functionality, with replica databases providing read-only access to help offload a primary server’s workload. “The way Microsoft has reintroduced the concept of database mirroring in SQL Server 2012 has completely changed the landscape when talking about database availability.”

In early 2012, HSN began the first phase of its planned SQL Server 2012 implementation, which supports the company’s forums as well as the business-to-business application. HSN implemented the solution at two sites on HP ProLiant DL580 server computers.

The company is replacing its replication infrastructure with AlwaysOn availability groups, including an asynchronous mirror and synchronous secondary instances. The solution gives HSN synchronous failover capabilities.

In the solution’s second phase, slated to be in production in June 2012, HSN will set up its entire e-commerce site, HSN.com, to run on SQL Server 2012. The site will have an asynchronous availability group on the secondary active database, designed as a read-only secondary database. This will serve as the company’s environment for reporting and readable functions.

Once the solution is fully functional, it will support 3 terabytes of HSN data.

Benefits

Using SQL Server 2012, HSN can better support its infrastructure to handle growth. Also, the company gains higher availability for its customer and partner applications, and it expects to reduce application failover times.

Supports HSN Growth Strategy

By moving its internal applications and customer website to SQL Server 2012, HSN is better positioned to support future growth. Kaiser says, “As HSN grows its business, Microsoft SQL Server 2012 will be used as the foundation for our database platform across all digital screens, driving higher levels of redundancy while maintaining a consistent commerce experience at all transaction volumes. We’ll be well-positioned for more successes.”

When the solution is implemented, HSN will be supporting its digital commerce on SQL Server 2012. “We are always evolving our digital platforms to provide a unique shopping experience across all screens,” says Kaiser. “We have a lot of confidence in SQL Server 2012 as the backbone of our business.”

Gives Customers More Confidence

With its new high-availability setup, HSN can give its forum users and business partners more confidence. “By being able to do maintenance offline, we will greatly reduce the impact on our mission-critical forums and business-to-business application,” says Ayres. “The higher availability we’ll see is really going to build confidence with our business partners and other customers.”

Lowers Failover Time from 40 Seconds to 2–3Seconds

In the organization’s previous database replication environment, application failover times routinely took about 40 seconds. Based on initial testing with SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn, HSN is confident that failover times will be much lower in the new environment. “With SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn, it will only take us 2 or 3 seconds instead of 40 seconds to recover,” Kaiser says. “This is huge to the business, especially in the digital space, where consumer behavior is changing, being “always on” is taken for granted, and tolerance to downtime does not exist.”

HSN will also have a more flexible database fabric overall. Kaiser says, “Going forward, all of the new applications that we’ll be developing internally will be based on this new platform, because of its scalability and higher availability options. It sets us up for more successes.”

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview



Organization Size: 4000 employees

Organization Profile
Based in St. Petersburg, Florida, HSN sells popular brand-name retail products on television, online and via mobile devices to customers nationwide.

Hardware
HP ProLiant DL580 server computers

Software and Services
Microsoft SQL Server 2012 Enterprise

Vertical Industries
Specialty Retail

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
  • Business Critical
  • Mission Critical

IT Issue
High Availability

Languages
English

Partner(s)
Microsoft Services

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