Cutting Your Storage Footprint

Here's a closer look at 5 techniques to reduce the volume of stored data.

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Files compressed by Microsoft Office applications or popular image formats such as JPEG can't be reduced with many common compression techniques or may even increase in size. Neuxpower Solutions Ltd. claims that its software can shrink Office and JPEG files by as much as 95% without loss of image quality by removing unnecessary information such as metadata or details that can't be seen unless the image is enlarged. Ocarina, which is being acquired by Dell, says its products offer similar capabilities because they use multiple optimization algorithms tuned for different types of content, and they have the ability to test and choose among various compression methods for the best runtime efficiency.

Deduplication and compression are complementary. "Use compression when the primary focus is on speed, performance, transfer rates. Use deduplication where there is a high degree of redundant data and you want higher space savings," says Schulz.

3. Policy-Based Tiering

Policy-based tiering is the process of moving data to different classes of storage based on criteria such as its age, how often it is accessed or the speed at which it must be available (see "The Politics of Storage"). Unless the policy calls for the outright deletion of unneeded data, this technique won't reduce your overall storage needs, but it can trim costs by moving some data to less expensive, but slower, media.

Vendors in this market include Hewlett-Packard Co., which offers built-in policy management and automated file migration in its StorageWorks X9000, and DataGlobal GmbH, which says that its unified storage and information management software enables customers to analyze and manage unstructured files and other information and thereby reduce their storage needs by 60% to 70% for e-mail and about 20% for file servers.

Other products with tiering capabilities include Storage Center 5 from Compellent Technologies, HotZone and SafeCache from FalconStor, Policy Advisor from 3Par, EMC's FAST and F5 Networks' ARX series of file virtualization appliances.

4. Storage Virtualization

As is the case with server virtualization, storage virtualization involves "abstracting" multiple storage devices into a single pool of storage, allowing administrators to move data among tiers as needed. Many experts view it as an enabling technology rather than a data reducer, per se, but others see a more direct connection to data reduction.

Actifio Inc.'s data management systems use virtualization to eliminate the need for multiple applications for functions such as backups and disaster recovery. Its appliances let customers choose service-level agreements governing the management of various data sets from a series of templates.

With this method, the proper management policies are then applied to a single copy of the data, defining where, for example, it is stored and how it is deduplicated during functions such as backup and replication. Company co-founder and CEO Ash Ashutosh claims that Actifio can cut storage needs 75% to 90%.

5. Thin provisioning

Thin provisioning means setting up an application server to use a certain amount of space on a drive, but not using that space until it is actually needed. As with policy-based storage, this technique doesn't cut the total data footprint but delays the need to buy more drives until absolutely necessary.

If storage needs increase rapidly, you must "react very, very quickly" to ensure that you have enough physical storage, says Allen. The more unpredictable your needs, the better measurement and management tools you need if you adopt thin provisioning. Schulz advises looking for products that identify both the data and applications users need to track, and that monitor not only space usage but read/write operations to prevent bottlenecks.

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