Istockphoto.com is the biggest royalty-free stock photo community in the world, and its sister company, istockpro.com, is home to a host of illustrious professional photographers. Every week, approximately 5,000 photographers upload more than 2,500 photos (2.5 GB) to MySQL® -- the world's most popular open source database -- and approximately 1,250(1.25 GB) are accepted and posted to istock Web sites. More than 200,000 customers, including corporations, advertising and public relations agencies, and individuals access these photo databases and download 20-30 GB daily for a variety of uses. The MySQL database tracks every photo submitted and manages the permissions and billing, all for the fraction of the cost of traditional database systems.
"We operate a classic LAMP system," says Patrick Lor, executive vice president. "MySQL enables us to grow our business at a rate of 15 to 30 percent a month.
A traditional database would have required at least a million dollars in funding for design, hardware, and all of the other costs associated with such solutions. We still wouldn't have gained the flexibility and stability that MySQL provides. With the LAMP approach, we've built a business based on sweat and ideas, and are growing it exponentially. And, it only cost about $100,000 to implement.
According to Lor, istockphoto.com has a unique billing system that saves the company substantial costs associated with invoicing. In this model, users pay a $10 fee and then download photos against that sum. With each download, the user is issued a receipt. When the $10 runs out, users simply make another deposit. The MySQL database monitors the entire process.
Istockpro.com, the other istock site, operates somewhat differently. Professional photographers submit their photos, which are then posted to the Web site. Users then pay by credit card. MySQL tracks permissions and transactions, and provides some minimal accounting features to the photographers. Again, email receipts are issued, avoiding many of the costs typically associated with invoicing.
Prior to moving to an open source solution, istock Web sites relied on Cold Fusion. Lor states that, in addition to costs associated with this product, they were working with a version that they thought needed more work before it could help achieve their goals.
We realized that MySQL and other open source products opened more options for us, says Lor. The talent pool was more varied and the costs were certainly lower. More importantly, open source provides stability that is critical to our operations. Traffic is king in this business, and if we can't reliably support our photographers and our customers, we're out of business.
Lor says that his company also jumped on what it saw as a trend toward using open source solutions for the enterprise, with unexpected results. The increasing legitimacy of open source solutions enables istock to approach much larger partners, such as Adobe Systems, Inc., than would otherwise be possible.
After all, we're using the same database that Google and Yahoo! rely on, Lor says. That means that our choice of database is an asset, and not a liability when we go after partners and new business. It helps us grow.
MySQL helps istock grow in other ways, as well. According to Lor, the 250,000-strong customer database records comprise active users who frequently ask for new features. MySQL helps accommodate these requests, enabling Lor and his team to make changes on the fly, in most cases within an hour or two.
Additionally, the istockphoto site is particularly active, with photographers - and their photographs - changing on a daily basis. MySQL tracks and manages these updates seamlessly.
When you're growing as rapidly as istock, scalability becomes mission-critical. Over the last year, the istockphoto configuration has grown from three to 10 Intel processors running Apache and Unix. This database comprises 250 GB of data, with 115 tables and 7.7 million records.
The istockpro database comprises 500 GB and runs on six Intel processors. It supports 41 tables and 2.7 million records.
MySQL is such an integral part of our business, that it literally allows us to exist, says Lor. The fact that we can grow as quickly as we do is also attributable in large part to MySQL and the open source community.