So you want to thin provision storage …

Did you know that the human brain doesn’t actually need you to spell correctly in order to discern context?

I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

What does this have to do with Storage and Data Protection?

Firstly, please allow me to apologise if you had any challenges reading the previous paragraph as I am categorically not trying to take the michael as regards dyslexia or related conditions.  Indeed, my sister is dyslexic and I have nothing but respect for the way that she hasn’t allowed this to slow her down in life or studies in the slightest.

But the question remains, where is the link between the opening paragraph and data storage?

The best storage device yet invented is the human brain, although admittedly it sometimes isn’t as performant as we would like after a night on the tiles, and we have much to learn about storage specifically and technology in general from studying neuroscience.

You may recall that I have talked about thin provisioning in this blow previously, affectionately known as the ‘Northern Rock’ method of storage allocation internally here at Computacenter, thin provisioning is a block level storage technology which allows us to more effectively control the storage allocation to hosts by only allocating [or provision, hence the term thin provisioning] that which is physically required.  Great.  That clears it up, simple right!  See you next week.

Only kidding …what that means in English is that we know that data is really only zeroes and ones [‘on’ bits and ‘off’ bits, actually], so who cares if it is a PowerPoint or Excel spreadsheet or joke email …what we care about are the zeroes and ones of the data, which is what we mean when we say ‘block level’.

Okay, now we move on to ‘fat’ provisioning in traditional storage environments …an email administrator tells the storage administrator he needs 10 terabytes [10,000 gigbaytes], so the storage admin adds a little ‘fluff’ just in case and we’re now into say 12 terabytes …and here’s the thing …the email admin won’t use the entire 12 terabytes in one go, he’ll use that gradually … in actuality he asked for the storage he reckons he’ll need for his users over the next year or more.  But the 12 terabytes has been allocated to him and cannot be used for anyone else.  Multiply that over multiple storage arrays and multiple hosts and you can see just how quickly storage is traditionally allocated which won’t be used for a considerable period of time …if ever …but locked into a single host allocation unable to be used for anyone else.  This certainly puts a big dent in utilisation!

Wouldn’t it be great if we could let other people have access to the storage we’re not using ?

Well, yes …and that is primarily what storage virtualisation is all about …and thin provisioning is a great feature of storage virtualisation.  A feature, mind …not a product …and the better vendor storage offerings have storage virtualisation built in as a feature so that you don’t have to go out and but a separate product or products to facilitate this.

Put simply, thin provisioning will tell the server that I have access to however many terabytes I have requested but the storage array will only dole out the zeroes and ones the server needs as it needs them thus freeing up a serious amount of storage for others to use.  And before you go worrying about it, we monitor how quickly data is being created to ensure we aren’t caught out with everyone requesting the storage they believe they are entitled to simultaneously thus crashing the system …a la Northern Rock.

Fandabbydoozy!  Everyone should be using this, right?  Absolutely.  In fact, buy three and we’ll have a great quarter!  But Houston, we have a problem.  Budgets are tight, and storage virtualisation and thin provisioning are predicated on the avoidance of future spend …and many, if not all, of our customers are looking for in year ROI …game over?

No, it doesn’t have to be …Zero Page Reclamation [ZPR] to the rescue!  Oh dear …what on Earth is ZPR I hear you shout.  Remember the first paragraph and the fact that our brains only need to see the first and the last letter to discern context?  Thought I’d forgotten about that, didn’t you?

Storage is allocated in a ‘fat’ provisioned traditional environment much in the same way …the array ‘writes’ a zero page to the beginning and the end and leaves the bits in between blank so that it remains allocated to the server host and won’t be accidentally allocated to someone else.  But we don’t want that as it is inefficient, so we buy an array with thin provisioning on board but …and here’s the kicker …if we don’t clear those ‘zero pages’ when we migrate from fat to thin provisioning [shouldn’t that be called a storage diet migration, by the way?] the new thin provisioned array will view the migrated data volumes as ‘full and allocated’ even though we know this isn’t the case.

Enter ZPR which ‘erases’, or removes if you prefer, the zero pages and returns this storage back to the pool.  Hey presto …in year ROI, money for old rope, instant storage!

There are some arrays which do this for themselves when you migrate to them alone [e.g. IBM XiV] but there are also arrays like HDS USPV which allow us to virtualise storage from heterogenous arrays [i.e from other vendors] into a pool, thin provision, and use ZPR to reclaim upwards of 30% of storage which would have otherwise remained ‘allocated’.   ZPR gives us a great way to not only help our customers control storage spend in the future, but use their existing assets to achieve ROI now …today …immediately.

I can’t think of a more powerful solution to ‘kick the door in’ when we’re talking to our customers about why Computacenter and not someone else when it comes to their storage partner.

I’ll be running a webinar re ZPR soon and a Masterclass in August to help you understand storage virtualisation more fully, but please don’t hesitate to contact me or your friendly neighbourhood Solution Specialist if you would like to position storage virtualisation and Zero Page Reclamation with your customer.

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One Response to “So you want to thin provision storage …”

  1. Nothing is designed to deliver miracles, nevermind data storage. « What's this got to do with… Says:

    […] isn’t the ‘awesomesauce’ but, rather, what are we proposing to do with technologies such as thin provisioning, data deduplication, automated storage provisioning, automated storage tiering such as FAST, zero […]

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