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Understanding Thin Provisioning and How it works

Thin Provisioning

Innovation in storage technology is focused on greater value for money, optimized performance and effective utilization of acquired storage space. Thin provisioning (TP) is a result of this innovation and is a data service poised to deliver optimized storage utilization rates.

In this article we explore what thin provisioning is, how it works and how important it is for an enterprise. To expand our understanding of TP, we will also compare its working with traditional provisioning, which is also known as thick provisioning.

What is Thin Provisioning?

Thin provisioning, also known as virtual provisioning or thin storage, is a method of on-demand storage allocation based on user requirements in storage area networks (SAN), centralized storage disks, and storage virtualization systems.

In thin storage, as the user consumes their allocated storage space, they are allocated more. Alternatively, when they free up space, by deleting files or transferring data, the idle space is reclaimed, repurposed and used for other workloads in need of storage.

Thin Vs. Thick Provisioning – The Difference and Working

In comparison to thin provisioning, thick provisioning (also called fat provisioning) pre-allocates storage space in anticipation of future capacity requirements. This practice of storage allocation leads to idle storage space, inefficient storage utilization, and unnecessary costs of infrastructure and maintenance.  

In other words, while both thin and thick provisioning are methods of storage allocation the difference lies in how the Logical Unit Number (LUN) is configured.

Thick Provisioned LUNs – Creation and Issues

Thick provisioning creates LUNs and assigns them to specific hosts or applications. The LUN reserves a specific portion of the storage space specifically for the assigned host or application. As the process runs over time, the allocated storage space consumes all of the available storage space.

For instance, consider an organization with a total of 100 employees. Each employee needs 1TB of storage. In order to facilitate all of their employees, the organization will have to purchase a storage system that can deliver 100TBs of usable storage capacity. Using thick provisioning, 1TB LUNs will be configured to allocate storage for each employee. A thing to note here, is that employees will not immediately fill up the 1TB storage capacity – as it is the total capacity, they need in anticipation of future data growth. In other words, the large portions of the dedicated storage capacity, will sit idly until used. Consequently, the Return on Investments (ROIs) will not be ideal to say the least.  

Additionally, when employees will start fully consuming the allocated 1TB space and ask for more storage, more problems will arise.

The trouble with thick provisioned LUNs is that once provisioned they cannot be scaled up. In order to add more storage to a thick provisioned LUN, it has to be recreated. In other words, the host applications and workloads will have to be paused, data will have to be backed up, and then new LUNs with larger storage capacity will be created and allocated.

You can imagine the downtime and inefficiency in the above storage when employees will have consumed their allocated 1TB space.

Thin Provisioned LUNs- Creation and Working

Unlike thick provisioned LUNs, thin provisioned LUNs can be configured to larger sizes than the actual available physical storage capacity. Due to the thin provisioned pool concept, thin LUNs continue to operate and scatter data all over the available storage space; while the array keeps track of it.

In the above example, the organization can purchase a storage infrastructure with 50TBs of usage capacity and allocate 100TBs for the employees using thin provisioning. Once the 50TBs is nearly full, they can purchase more storage and scale up configured thin LUNs.

The other difference between thin and thick provisioned LUNs is that thin LUNs can easily scale up whenever necessary. There is no need to pause host applications or the workloads using the allocated storage.

In other words, not only does thin provisioning improve ROIs but also facilitates future data growth with ease – without any downtime.

Advantages of Thin Provisioning for Enterprises

  • For IT environments that use multiple hosts and applications, thin provisioning speeds up storage provisioning, simplifies management and reduces costs by enhancing storage utilization.
  • Without thin provisioning, IT environments either have to deal with disruption when dedicated storage space for a LUN is consumed or they fat provision their storage infrastructure excessively. Both solutions are inefficient, costly, and exhaust resources. With thin provisioning, the available resources can be effectively leveraged and when allocated storage is consumed, more storage can be added without delay or disruption.
  • Thin provisioning can also be paired with other data services to enhance storage utilization. For instance, compression services pair nicely with thin provisioning. Thin provisioning effectively leverages the available storage space while compression reduces the overall footprint of the data.

Thin Provisioning in StoneFly Solutions

StoneFly’s patented storage operating system (OS): StoneFusion™ offers thin provisioning as a standard feature using its SAN license.

This implies that all StoneFly SAN, HCI, and backup and disaster recovery (DR) solutions come preconfigured with thin provisioning features.

Additionally, users can purchase the software as a standalone product to install on bare-metal servers or it can be deployed as a Virtual Machine (VM) on industry standard hypervisors, such as VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, KVM,  Citrix (formerly XenServer), and StoneFly Persepolis.

For more information about StoneFusion for bare-metal, click here.

To learn more about our vSAN, click here.


Thin provisioning efficiently uses available storage space, speeds up storage provisioning, and enables infrastructure owners to get the most bang for their buck. In comparison to thick provisioning, thin provisioning costs less and is more accommodating to future data growth, making it the obvious choice between the two and a must-have for all SAN, centralized storage disks, and storage virtualization systems.  


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