Battle of the Bulge

Thin provisioning puts storage-hungry users on a diet.

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Other storage vendors now rushing forth with thin-provisioning options include mainstay suppliers such as Hewlett-Packard Co., Network Appliance Inc. and Overland Storage Inc. Joining them are LeftHand Networks Inc. and Compellent Technologies Inc.

All are trying to make the business case for thin provisioning. "The rationalization for these products is a savings on capital costs, because you don't have to buy as much capacity upfront," notes Asaro. It's an argument that proves persuasive to IT leaders loath to continue buying storage capacity that is virtually useless, he says.

"Fifty-eight percent of companies we polled recently said they were aware that they have stranded storage in their organization, and a full half of those had to buy new storage systems regardless," reports Asaro. He says there is a "simple elegance" to thin provisioning that forces users to be accountable for the amount of storage they consume and imposes best practices on executives assigning capacity.

The simplicity surrounding thin provisioning appealed to senior IT executives at Commerce Bank & Trust in Topeka, Kan. "We can underestimate the amount of storage space we need and then always grow it," says Steve Haas, the financial services company's IT security officer.

Thin provisioning also helped Commerce Bank with many of its struggles to meet the disparate storage needs of its departments and programs. "There is a huge difference in the specific sizes our various users require. For instance, we might have a power user out there that requires 500GB of space and another that needs about 20GB. Thin provisioning allows you leeway," Haas says.

Commerce Bank uses LeftHand Networks' thin-provisioning tools. The financial institution has three clustered Network Storage Module 200 storage devices that accommodate about 30 of its servers. By choosing LeftHand's thin-provisioning capabilities, the bank continually monitors the need to add capacity. "We really appreciate the notifications we get when we hit the soft thresholds that tell us we are running out of space. That happened this morning, as a matter of fact," Haas says.

Second Helpings

Being constantly aware of dipping storage levels is one potential drawback of thin provisioning. "The only real issue that users need to consider is having to monitor the 'free space' available in their systems and not let that fall below acceptable levels. Free space is the amount of capacity in a system that has not been allocated to logical volumes," says Stanley Zaffos, an analyst at Gartner Inc.

Also, because users aren't allotted their full share of storage upfront when thin-provisioning strategies are in play, senior executives might get some pushback from systems administrators.

"Definitely, IT managers are a suspicious lot - in part because they've had many weekends ruined when there are problems with critical systems. So they tend to be risk-averse," notes Brian Doerr, chief technology officer at Savvis Inc, a provider of managed and outsourced IT services in Town & Country, Mo. Savvis has incorporated 3PAR's thin-provisioning capabilities internally to make sure it can meet customers' storage needs. The outsourcer also extends thin-provisioning options to its own clients.

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