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Thin provisioning
The best way to understand thin provisioning is to think about airline overbooking. By analyzing passenger behavior, airlines know that a certain number of passengers won't show up at departure. So they sell more seats than they have available.

"[Thin provisioning] is no different than overbooking," says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst, The StorageIO Group, Stillwater, MN. "You tell each host that it has more storage available to it than it actually has, knowing that it's unlikely to need all that storage anytime soon."

The key to thin provisioning is to track usage closely and install more physical capacity before you need it. "A lot of vendors are offering thin provisioning today. The difference is how well they track and predict capacity usage," says Schulz.

3PAR pioneered thin provisioning, but other vendors, such as Compellent, LeftHand Networks Inc. and Network Appliance have jumped in, says Mark Bowker, analyst, Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, MA. Pillar Data Systems Inc. will add thin provisioning to its Axiom array early next year and Bowker expects more companies to do the same.

Thin provisioning differs from storage on demand. With storage on demand, the extra capacity is physically resident in the array, but not accessible until you purchase the key and provision it. In thin provisioning, there's no extra physical capacity. When you need more physical disk, you just plug

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it into the array when it arrives. As far as the hosts are concerned, the capacity, fully provisioned, has always been there.

This was first published in December 2006

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