Ellison-backed vendor tackles wasted storage problem

Pillar Data Systems to push thin provisioning concept

Pillar Data Systems, the storage vendor funded by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, is getting ready to bolster its line of features with technology that helps businesses avoid wasting storage space known as thin provisioning.

Pillar will release the new feature in beta to a small group of customers in a month, and include thin provisioning in a full upgrade of its Axiom storage system in September, company officials said this week.

Pillar executives would discuss only a few details of their plans, but said over the next two years they want to focus more on mid-sized businesses and improve the way storage integrates with applications. The goal is to make it easier to set parameters governing the way storage behaves, with more automation and point-and-click functionality, says Michael Workman, president and CEO of Pillar.

Thin provisioning eliminates the problem of over-provisioning of storage, in which storage capacity is pre-allocated to applications but never used. Thin provisioning lets users set aside a single pool of storage to handle the data growth requirements of multiple applications. More than 100 percent of storage capacity can thus be allocated to applications, but capacity remains available because it won't be consumed all at once.

"Thin provisioning is a feature that is used to essentially alleviate the problem in some operating systems today where once you specify the size of a LUN -- a logical unit -- that it's very difficult and cumbersome without migrating data and doing a lot of work to increase the size of that LUN," Workman says.

If a company thinks it needs 100TB of storage space, it might provision 200TB just in case it has miscalculated, he says. "That overprovisioning of data space causes people to waste storage for a long time because of this operating system issue," he says. "What thin provisioning does is it allows you to effectively lie about the size of the physical space that you have for a LUN size sand say 'oh, it's 200 terabytes even if you only have 100 physical terabytes there. ... It allows people to overprovision without physically having to buy that storage in the first place."

Vendors already offering thin provisioning include 3Par, Network Appliance, Compellent, LeftHand Networks, DataCore and Equallogic.

Axiom storage systems start at about US$40,000, and some implementations can cost $1 million, depending on capacity and various configurations, Workman says.

Pillar, founded in 2001, has been driven by US$250 million in investments from Ellison, who owns 83 percent of the company, according to Workman.

Pillar has been pitching its storage system as an environmentally friendly product recently, saying it can help customers hold the line on electricity usage and space requirements even as the amount of data grows.

"Our argument is it certainly can't hurt the planet to reduce the power consumption of the IT sector," Workman says. "What we do every day is try to minimize that, maximize the capacity and performance you get per watt you put in the box."

Network World Senior Editor Deni Connor contributed to this report.

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