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Improving storage utilization with thin provisioning

Investment company Maxim Group LLC uses FalconStor Software's Network Storage Server arrays to gain control of storage utilization, and clears capacity for data replication via thin provisioning.

When an organization adopts thin provisioning, the results can be dramatic. John Michaels, chief technology officer at Maxim Group LLC, a New York City investment banking and management company, knows firsthand how the technology can improve storage utilization.

By implementing thin provisioning in his 450-user environment, Michaels reclaimed 46% of his total capacity. On two of his partitions, he was able to reclaim more than 90% of capacity. His storage use went from 5.78 TB to 3.12 TB by upgrading existing equipment to use thin provisioning and purchasing a system with it already included.

Several years ago, Michaels purchased two, non-thin provisioned, 5 TB Network Storage Server (NSS) arrays from FalconStor Software Inc. One was placed at the company's Manhattan headquarters and the other at its Woodbury, Long Island, branch office. Each NSS backed up its local servers and replicated to the other NSS for disaster recovery (DR) protection and to satisfy SEC requirements.

To protect his servers on a budget, Michaels had to pick and choose which servers to back up each day, a practice that threatened to undermine the company's full SEC compliance. He also had to fiddle with his partition allocations to retain enough capacity on hand to satisfy every server and application, which meant removing servers from use, lowering or raising their capacity allocations, and remounting them.

Michaels' Manhattan office is in the Chrysler Building, which has had its share of disasters. There's been a steam-pipe explosion, flooding from the office above and an air conditioner failure in the last few years. Add in the memory of the 9/11 attacks, and you can understand why Michaels might be worried about his data.

In July 2009, Michaels purchased another FalconStor NSS unit with thin provisioning already installed. As part of the deal, FalconStor also upgraded the older NSS units with up-to-date software that included thin provisioning. To allow his legacy volumes to use thin provisioning, Michaels had to delete all of his backup jobs and create new ones that incorporated the thin provisioning technology. He estimates that his total cost for the new NSS, the software upgrades and two days of onsite installation was approximately $25,000.

The hardest part of this implementation was replicating the new backup data between the units in Manhattan and Long Island. To replicate the new data over the company's VPN would have taken weeks. So Michaels retrieved the Long Island NSS, brought it to the Manhattan office and performed the replication in one spot. Each unit's data was replicated to the two other units for DR protection. He then drove one NSS back to the Long Island office and mounted it. Now it replicates only delta changes, and Michaels said he's happy with the results.

"With the new units, I could see a difference right away," Michaels said. "For any server I needed to protect, the size of the partition didn't matter. I could have a whole terabyte partitioned, but it's only going to use the amount of data that's actually on it." He was able to allow each partition its full capacity requirement.

Now that he has the capacity to protect each server every day, he's not worried. "It's allowed me to sleep at night," Michaels said.

And by adding virtualization technology, Michaels can run multiple virtual servers on his physical servers and only pay the license fee for the physical server. When he installed four servers with virtualization and brought up five virtual servers on each box, "I got 20 servers for the price of four," Michaels said, all thin provisioning machines, for much better storage utilization than in the past.

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