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Start-up costs slow spread of de-duplication

IT is leery even though the technology promises to cut costs and storage needs.

May 18, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - While data de-duplication is a relatively easy way for companies to consolidate storage systems, the technology has yet to attract the widespread attention of IT managers. According to Gartner Inc., only about 30% of corporations have deployed any form of de-duplication technology.

Gartner says the technology can cut storage needs by a ratio of 20:1 to 30:1 on average -- far less than vendor claims of 200:1 to 300:1, but still enough to greatly reduce network bandwidth requirements and stave off storage hardware purchases by making better use of existing equipment. The technology could also eliminate the need for costly tape backup systems.

Gartner analyst Valdis Filks suggested that despite the potential benefits, IT managers remain reluctant buyers of the technology because of high start-up costs.

"De-duplication is becoming very fashionable and lays claim to large cost savings, but quite a few companies I speak to get turned off by the purchase price," Filks said.

Simply put, data de-duplication, or single-instance storage, involves the elimination of redundant data. Hash algorithms mark data blocks with unique numbers, and those numbers are compared so that duplicate pieces of data can be left out of the storage process.

To date, the primary corporate use of the technology has been for e-mail archiving. The benefits of that application are obvious when you realize that a single e-mail can represent thousands of copies of one attachment.

Today's de-duplication tools are mostly point products, such as prepackaged appliances that sit between a primary disk storage system and the backup process, software that runs on commercially available host systems, or virtual tape library (VTL) disk subsystems. The market is starting to expand because companies like Sun Microsystems Inc. and NetApp Inc. have begun shipping tools that provide de-duplication on primary storage systems.

Analysts say that as IT managers consider deploying de-duplication technology, they should keep in mind that it will continue to expand beyond point solutions to primary storage systems. "You should definitely roll it out today but implement something that can adapt and change when de-duplication becomes ubiquitous in other areas of the [data center]," Filks said.

The top makers of de-duplication point products include Data Domain, Sepaton, EMC's Avamar unit, Diligent Technologies, FalconStor Software (whose technology is resold by vendors like IBM, Sun and EMC) and Quantum.

Some users have found that de-duplication can deliver significant benefits in certain specific environments, such as at companies running older tape library systems.

Boston Medical Center was able to reduce 400TB of data stored on its tape libraries and secondary disk storage system to 3.5TB while also eliminating the need for tape backup by using Data Domain Corp.'s DD690 virtual tape library de-duplication system, said Brad Blake, director of IT.

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