How To

Thin vs Thick Provisioning: When, Why and How

May 31, 2023 | min

Storage provisioning refers to setting up IT infrastructure and managing the access and storage of data — an increasingly important consideration in a landscape where data seems to multiply endlessly and exponentially. 

Experts commonly describe provisioning practices as being either “thin” or “thick,” depending on the method of allocating storage space at the setup time. The question remains about which option is best when comparing thin and thick provisioning.

Key Takeaways:

  • Organizations must choose a storage provisioning method when virtualizing becomes a necessary practice for IT operations.
  • Thin and thick provisioning solutions differ in cost and convenience, making it necessary to choose the right one for the company’s situation.
  • Choosing the right provisioning strategy involves evaluating the enterprise’s needs, goals and budget constraints.

Make the right storage provisioning decision by understanding when a choice is necessary, why the distinction between storage allocation methods exists, and how to arrive at the best solution.

What is thin vs thick provisioning?

When IT leaders choose between thin vs. thick provisioning, it is essential to understand the key features of each. 

Thick provisioning

This is the process of allocating a static amount of storage to a virtual machine (VM). For example, one user might have access to 40GB of storage. In a thick provisioning installation, that user would continue to have exclusive access to the full 40GB even if they only use 20GB.

Thin provisioning

This approach is more dynamic as the VM receives only as much of an allocation of storage as is initially needed. If the demand for more storage space arises, the allocation adjusts to meet that demand.

The question of which provisioning method to utilize comes up as soon as a company decides to adopt virtualization as a means of capitalizing on physical storage space and providing multiple internal users or external clients access to that storage to numerous internal users or external clients.

Which solution is better?

When deciding between thin vs. thick provisioning, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. That is why IT teams must make a choice when deploying a storage solution. This requires teams to understand the benefits of thin and thick provisioning methods.

The advantages of thin provisioning depend on balancing future risks and opportunities: 

  • Reducing wasteful practices by only allocating the amount of storage needed
  • Allowing for growth by ensuring the ability to add more storage as demands rise
  • Saving time otherwise spent manually resizing virtual storage units

The advantages of thick provisioning boil down to simplicity:

  • Lowering latency as a result of the upfront allocation
  • Allowing for growth by providing enough capacity for applications to expand
  • Requiring less supervision since there is no expectation for storage allocation to change drastically

Knowing how thin and thick provisioning differ makes it clear why choosing is necessary, but finalizing a decision requires deeper introspection into an organization’s needs and goals.

How do you decide to implement thin vs thick provisioning?

Choosing a storage provisioning method is a matter of analyzing two critical areas of the enterprise. 

First, one must evaluate the needs of the IT infrastructure and the users who rely on it. Second, it is necessary to outline the business’s goals and budget to determine which provisioning solution best accommodates those points.

Opting for thin provisioning can be a smart decision when low costs are the priority. Organizations can save on upfront storage costs by only provisioning the space a VM initially requires. It is then possible to quickly create the thinly provisioned virtual disk, reducing costs associated with a longer delivery time. Adopting thin provisioning also reduces wasted storage space, eliminating long-term costs in the form of excessive energy spending.

Thick provisioning is often the more convenient route for companies to take. There is greater predictability in implementing a solution with a static storage allocation, which eliminates the risk of over-provisioning. Pre-allocated storage space also means lower latency, greatly benefitting the end user. Thick provisioning also has cost benefits, specifically as it lowers monitoring requirements for a VM that does not need to shrink.

Spiceworks explains that there may be additional complexity in determining a storage provisioning strategy for companies using VMs in the cloud. This entails extra costs for the network, cloud storage services, and other recurring payments. These factors might further inform an organization’s inclination toward thin vs. thick provisioning.

Thin vs thick provisioning: the bottom line 

Knowing the proper provisioning method is a matter of determining when, why and how to utilize each type of storage allocation best. Weighing the costs and benefits of each can lead you to find the provisioning method that best matches your company’s needs. 

Regardless of the chosen storage provisioning method, enterprises need a virtualization platform that can power VMs in any type of cloud environment. The platform should provide the full range of features expected of an enterprise VM management system, including storage provisioning, but with a simple control panel that hides the complexity of the underlying processes.

The Nutanix AHV platform has a hypervisor designed to facilitate scalability and ease of management while also lowering operational costs. While the AHV is designed to work seamlessly in modern hybrid cloud environments, the platform also strives to provide solutions compatible with an existing virtualization ecosystem.

Thin vs. thick provisioning remains the question, with neither offering a foolproof solution. The right virtualization platform for any business should be flexible enough to allow for either provisioning style, thereby empowering future growth and change in any situation.

Learn more about virtual desktop infrastructure as it relates to storage provisioning and how to choose the right hypervisor for managing virtual machines.

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