Should I get a SAN to scale my site architecture?

A friend who runs a popular web photo hosting service called me today with a scaling question:

“What do you think about getting a SAN to help me scale my storage needs as my site scales?”

After a bit of discussion, I told him what I knew about the technology which was that I knew people who had had good experiences running large sites using SANS for just about all their storage needs, and I knew people who suffered long outages when their SAN had a controller failure or other fundamental problem. These people had hung out waiting for their vendor to fly someone out to fix the problem or bring a replacement system.

Think about this: your site is completely down, you have no access to your data, and you have to wait for someone to get on a plane to come fix it while you’re sitting around with a bunch of engineers who can fix most other problems in a few minutes.

For a typical web company hours or days of downtime is absolutely unacceptable and a risk to the entire business. I think the lesson here is that using commodity hardware instead of proprietary solutions is about more than saving a few dollars on hardware, it’s also about minimizing the risks to your company.

Such a single point of failure from both a technology and business perspective is really putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s really nice to be able to walk down the street to Fry’s to pick up emergency equipment, and it’s also nice to be able to switch vendors when something isn’t working for you. And in the land of startups, that kind of agility and freedom is really, really important because the unexpected happens all the time when you’re scaling the business.

My friend is skipping the SAN for now in favor of a bigger server with fast drives, then partitioning his data across a couple of systems when things really get big.

How Do You Manage Your Time?

I was at the HBS Facebook award presentation event tonight and was fortunate to be able to meet Mark Zuckerberg briefly (congrats Mark on the award!) and asked him this question:

“How do you manage your time?”

Mark smiled and stated “Oh…. that’s tough. I met with Steve Ballmer, and he asked me that question.

I told Steve: “Well, I spend 30% of my time recruiting, 25% of my time working on product related stuff, some % of my time out speaking, etc.”

Steve replied “Well, I spend 12% of my time meeting with X, 8% of my time on Y, 4% of my time on Z. Also, I have two people who help me keep this schedule. But the important thing is to keep some of your time free. You have to stay leveraged — you need time to work on what you think is important as it occurs to you. You need time to prioritize that thing that comes up while it’s what you’re thinking about.”

So, I try to keep some of my time free. It’s more fun that way, and I get more done because I’m working on things that inspire me.

Time management is a really, really difficult task for entrepreneurs. As the company grows, you tend to be connected to so many things that it’s hard to untangle yourself from the critical path and before you know it people inside and outside the company will fill your schedule with meetings, calls, and projects leaving your out of control of what you do with your time. It’s nice to be wanted, but this ends up sucking both for your company and for your life because you end up feeling like you can’t do a good job at anything and end up being a terrible drive-by manager for anyone who works with you. “Hi, here’s my opinion, gotta go bye!!!”

Good point, Mark and Steve! I’m going to see if I can leave some time free to work on the inspirational ideas while they are still fresh. Anyone else have good ideas for managing your time in a startup environment?