Thin provisioning, a method of optimizing efficiency, flexibly allocates disk storage space among users, based on the minimum storage space a user requires at a specific time. It’s a popular trend in data centers, as thin provisioning technology can streamline these information technology (IT) powerhouses. Though there are many caveats to thin provisioning, one benefit that clearly stands out is energy efficiency.

With continuing issues in data centers, such as lack of available floor space, power needs and rising fuel and oil costs, it is no wonder that energy-efficiency initiatives are being considered. In power-hungry environments, slight savings are beyond what Craig Nunes, vice president of marketing, 3PAR, calls “blips on monthly bills.”

“According to the International Data Group, for every dollar spent on technology hardware, 50 cents is spent on powering it. That cost is expected to increase to 71 cents by 2010,” Nunes said.

Management of traditional or “block” storage is relatively complex; however, users accept that as the norm. As technologies advance and new features come out, users find that complex management functions are becoming more automated as they are being built right into virtualization software within the storage platform. This results in fewer management tasks needing to be performed by the IT staff as the array performs many on its own. The ability to provision disk space on an as-needed basis in a matter of seconds is shaving down IT staff requirements and making IT departments more efficient.

Why thin provisioning?

According to Nunes, 3PAR’s core green technology approach is centered on thin provisioning, and getting traditional storage users to understand the process better is a main goal.

Say an application owner asks for 30 gigabytes (GB) of capacity. The database administrator buffers this slightly, since adding capacity to the database can be disruptive. So the request increases to 45 GB. The Unix administrator does the same, again to reduce the possibility of any server disruption in the near term, so the request grows to 70 GB. Finally, the storage administrator purchases 100 GB of storage, buffering for the same reason as the others, delivering more than three times the actual application need. This chronic over-requesting translates to a huge waste of resources, which means wasted floor space, energy and power for the additional disks required when all requests are honored. With thin provisioning, physical capacity is allocated only as an application writes data. This is a way to extend the life and capacity of a storage system, making it more efficient.

“All thin stays thin,” Nunes said, which means no additional capacity is consumed or reserved upfront. Capacity is drawn from the storage array only as new application data is written.

“Take a data center where one believes applications require 100 terabytes, but in reality they only actually use 40 terabytes. That 60 percent savings is a savings in capacity, power, cooling and floor space,” he said.

Though storage is, for most contractors, not a key area of business, it is becoming a topic they can no longer avoid.

Nunes cited a data center in New York as one example. The data center was tapped out for power, and the only option for administrators was to build a cogenerator on the roof. It was a 30-megawatt (MW) data center with 10 MW required for storage, so an alternative to cogeneration is to change over to a greener solution. One option is to free up 6 MW of power, since only 4 MW were required, using technology such as thin provisioning, which helps cut down on storage waste that, in turn, cuts energy consumption. That alone would save the end-user millions of dollars.

This same project would also be a candidate for server virtualization, and by opting for that as well, the end-user could further reduce the data center’s footprint and realize additional costs savings.

While there is still ample opportunity for contractors to perform power, wiring and cabling to large data centers, there also is a budding opportunity to be consultants. Contractors should be knowledgeable in such fringe technologies and alternate solutions. Savvy contractors talk their customers through such options and gain customer confidence and mindshare. Generally, when a contractor helps a customer save money, the customer becomes more comfortable and loyal to that contractor. Such personal relationships keep business going and growing.

Contractors can use an understanding of solutions, such as thin provisioning and virtualization, to further differentiate themselves as IT providers.

No one contractor can have too much information or provide too many supplemental technologies. They add to the contractor’s overall ability to be a one-stop shop for items that require power, cabling and wiring. And that could be just about everything in any building, data centers included.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at jennifer.stong@comcast.net.