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The Storage Diet

Thin provisioning works wonders for ensuring every app gets a healthy portion of disk space.

Storage administrators know the drill: Someone in the organization needs extra capacity allocated to a new application. How much is enough? Most end up overallocating to cover both current and estimated future needs, resulting in wasted capacity that’s seldom used.

Enter thin provisioning, a software technology built into storage hardware from manufacturers such as EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, LeftHand Networks and NetApp. Known also as dynamic provisioning and flexible volumes, thin provisioning lets administrators initially allocate a large amount of virtual storage to an app while reserving only a fraction of actual disk space. Designed to either increase the physical capacity automatically as need increases or notify the administrator of the need for more physical space, thin provisioning stretches storage and extends the life of existing storage systems.

“Storage thin provisioning is such a valid concept because it allows users to properly utilize their storage resources,” says Deni Connor, principal analyst at Storage Strategies Now. “Customers don’t have to go out and buy more storage when they see they are running out, and the [database administrator] comes to them and says, ‘I need another terabyte of storage.’ “

Storage-related activities such as provisioning, backup and moving data account for 20 percent of IT labor costs, according to a report from F5 Networks.

Heading off additional infrastructure purchases prompted Gaston County, N.C., to tap thin provisioning. CIO Brandon Jackson’s SAN supports data-intensive applications such as a geographic information system, an SQL Server database and an Exchange mail server. “Thin provisioning allows us to allocate a minimal amount of space, but grow space dynamically whenever and however we need to,” he says.

Pairing thin provisioning with storage and server virtualization amounts to significant savings for the county. “We’re saving about $78,000 a year in server infrastructure procurement and support,” says Jackson. “That doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but it translates into 20 percent of our server and storage budget.”

Mar 10 2009