Battle of the Bulge

Thin provisioning puts storage-hungry users on a diet.

Thin-provisioning applications are among the latest weapons in the battle of the bloated storage budget. Several vendors are now pushing these optional features of familiar storage systems as a way for corporate IT officials to send a powerful message to storage-hungry business units: Finish what's on your plate before going back for seconds.

The back-and-forth between IT officials and users has become an all-too-familiar exchange. "It has almost become a ritual," notes Ernest Wurzbach, director of portal operations at Oakland, Calif.-based Ask.com. "Those of us responsible for managing storage and storage budgets know how much allocated space winds up being attached to products or applications but never gets used."

Waste Not, Want Not

Unused capacity is a natural byproduct of traditional storage-allocation methods, says Tony Asaro, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc. in Milford, Mass.

"Normally, if I want to provision a certain amount of capacity for a certain project, I must allocate that much capacity. Say it is 1TB. In reality, the user will probably only need about one-tenth of that space immediately, but I've had to allocate the whole terabyte," Asaro explains. "So the other 900GB cannot be used. There is no access to it. Now, if I do this for every application, I will quickly have a storage system that is 100% allocated but not fully utilized."

Battle of the Bulge
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Image Credit: Richard Borge
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That's exactly the situation Ask.com wanted to avoid. Rather than letting a lot of storage capacity earmarked for specific users or business units go untouched for long periods, the information-retrieval giant wanted to immediately use every scrap of capacity available upon the purchase of a single storage architecture for its Excite, iWon and My Way brands.

The company, formerly known as Ask Jeeves Inc., settled on 3PARdata Inc.'s InServ Storage Server and added in the 3PAR Thin Provisioning feature, which allows Ask.com to capture snapshots of "capacityless" online volumes that can be pressed into service. In addition, Ask.com makes use of another of 3PAR's so-called dedicate-on-write options, Virtual Copy, which also turns up empty volumes available for testing or off-host backups, according to company executives.

Wurzbach says he's been able to shave about 25% off overall storage expenses and has salvaged the 65% of allocated storage that is typically wasted when provisioned through traditional means. "We were able to reclaim all of the overallocated storage, as well as educate project managers on how to realistically forecast their needs," he says.

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