Battle of the Bulge

Thin provisioning puts storage-hungry users on a diet.

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Though a certain degree of vigilance is required when using thin-provisioning software, skittishness that users will be left without enough storage is likely unwarranted. "Fears surrounding the deployment of storage that supports thin provisioning have proved mostly unfounded," Zaffos says.

Most experts agree that storage hogging is a much bigger problem than is the monitoring of storage levels or even the unlikely event of temporarily running short on space. "We don't want to promise a lot of storage to our users out there, because they will find a use for it. There may have been a little bit of concern among these users initially that storage would run out, but we just tell them that we have enough storage to last six to seven months and that for x amount of dollars we can purchase more," says Haas.

Indeed, thin provisioning can help users become more realistic about their storage needs, because they are no longer faced with getting all of their capacity upfront or not at all. "Thin provisioning improves the relationship between operations and its customers, because the technology allows users to continue requesting more storage," notes Zaffos. "It's always easier to say yes than to explain to users why they do not need what they want."

Better Things to Do

Most experts agree that users shouldn't be left to dream up ways to use all of the storage space at their disposal, nor should they have to fret over the prospect of running out of capacity. "A scientist should never have to worry about how much storage space they have available," says Peter Herrin, a systems analyst at Infinity Pharmaceuticals Inc., a cancer drug discovery and development company in Cambridge, Mass.

Infinity installed 3PAR's InServ S800 storage server in January 2003. Like Ask.com, Infinity made use of the vendor's Thin Provisioning and Virtual Copy options, which took the burden off Infinity officials who were constantly trying to ensure that drug researchers would have enough storage.

"The real trick as far as storage projection goes is priming the pipeline as a particular drug moves from the research to the clinical trial stage," says John Keilty, Infinity's director of informatics. "Our challenges surround both the volume of data we have and its complexity. For instance, when researching a particular drug, a scientist can be working with hundreds of thousands of molecules that make up a protein associated with a certain type of cancer. This means millions of data points. Storage issues are further complicated by the fact that we must accommodate many, many images of these molecules, so we are talking terabytes of data."

Though not always as dramatic as the storage needs of researchers pursuing new cancer treatments, users in many vertical industries truly require vast volumes of capacity to help accomplish their company's mission. Yet how fast must this space be made available? This is a key question to fend off storage hogging, experts agree.

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