3PAR Spins Disk Trick

Claims Thin Provisioning feature drastically reduces underutilized storage. Will it get 3PAR in the door?

June 19, 2003

4 Min Read
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Let's get this straight: A disk storage array vendor that wants to sell you less disk space? Has Hell finally iced up?

While the idea certainly wouldn't fly in Hopkinton, startup 3PARdata Inc. is proposing to do just that with a new feature that lets users create volumes of any size -- without actually purchasing or installing the entire amount of necessary disk storage (see 3PAR Debuts 'Thin Provisioning').

3PAR says most companies grossly overprovision their storage, in part because the process of provisioning disk space for applications is complex and IT managers would rather simply have the capacity in place. But David Scott, president and CEO of 3PAR, also notes that the major storage vendors try to sell as much disk as they possibly can.

"We've been in this era of stuffing disk capacity at customers that they don't really need," he says.

The company claims it has found storage utilization rates of customers to be typically around 25 to 30 percent (though industry analysts estimate utilization rates for SAN-attached storage systems run at least 50 percent or higher). But with a new software option called Thin Provisioning, 3PAR says customers need only buy the physical storage capacity they actually use, even if they've allocated a much larger amount to an application.For example, a database may think it's accessing a volume sized at 4 TBytes, but the 3PAR system could have just 1 TB of disk capacity in place if the application uses less than that. User-defined thresholds alert administrators once the physical capacity starts to run out; 3PAR estimates customers will typically want to keep a three-month buffer of available capacity in place.

3PAR is selling Thin Provisioning as a software option priced at $6,600 per written terabyte of data.

Besides lower upfront costs, Scott says the benefits of provisioning less physical storage extend to operational expenses as well. "You're deferring disk purchases, but you're also eliminating floor space charges and power usage," Scott says. "The impact is incredible from an environmental perspective."

Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc., says 3PAR's Thin Provisioning sets "a new bar for usefulness," and he predicts that other vendors will eventually follow suit with similar offerings.

"Why the hell should I pay for stuff I'll never use, just to keep a DBA [database administrator] happy? It's stupid," he says. "In the days of spending money like a drunken sailor it was fashionable to not care. Now, you have to care." [Ed. note: Or you just may get your belly shaved with a rusty razor!]For 3PAR, which has been shipping its system for less than a year, the feature promises to help it better compete against the Big 3 that dominate the high-end RAID array business: EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Hitachi Data Systems (HDS), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM). To date, 3PAR has managed to sell a couple of dozen systems, but that's a drop in the bucket for EMC, HDS, or IBM (see 3PAR Hits Up Hitachi and 3PAR Sells 20 Systems).

Scott believes Thin Provisioning will allow 3PAR to offer the same overall system as competing vendors, but at a much lower initial price -- as much as one third or less the upfront cost.

Here's how he figures the math: Say an application is provisioned for 8 TBytes. In a RAID 1 configuration, that becomes 16 TBytes for the base volume. If you add one local copy and one remote copy of the data, that's 48 TBytes in all. At 5 cents per MByte, that much storage would cost $2.4 million.

By contrast, with 3PAR's Thin Provisioning, a customer can start with 2 TBytes of storage capacity, assuming the original 8 TBytes will be only 25 percent utilized. The total storage required is 10 TBytes (the original 2 TBytes; 2 Tbytes for RAID 1; 2 Tbytes for a local copy using 3PAR's copy-on-write feature; and 4 Tbytes for the remote copy), which at 3PAR's pricing of 7.5 cents per MByte would come to $750,000.

So if this is such a fantastic idea, why haven't the likes of EMC or IBM adopted it? Scott says they can't afford to, because it would drastically shrink their existing revenue streams."If you have a $20 billion industry today and the major players use this kind of technology, it could become a $10 billion industry overnight," he says.

It remains to be seen whether customers -- if they're given the opportunity to bite off only as much as they can chew -- will be more willing to take a chance on the startup's utility storage system. But for 3PAR, which by its own admission doesn't have a huge run rate to protect, it seems like a shrewd idea that might just pay off.

Todd Spangler, US Editor, Byte and Switch

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