Deduplication at its most simple level, examines data, compares it to other data that is already stored and if that data is identical, instead of storing that second copy of data the deduplication technology establishes a link to the original data. It requires significantly less storage space to establish a link than to actually store the file.
Deduplication first gained traction as a technology to enhance disk backup. Without deduplication your disk backup had to scale to store multiple full backups and several weeks worth of incremental backups. Even with the plummeting price of ATA storage the cost to configure a disk array to store even a months worth of backups, let alone the power, cooling and space required by the array was enormous.
If you do backups you know that this data, especially in full backups, is highly redundant and this is where deduplication shines, as a result it was the first market that the technology became a requirement and companies like Data Domain and Avamar became market leaders. Avamar was snatched up by EMC but Data Domain made it all the way to becoming a public company.
What really drove Data Domain's success in the backup space is the ability to replicate backup data to another site. This was an often requested feature when disk to disk backup first started to become viable, but the way and speed at which backup data is created standard replication wouldn't work across normal WAN bandwidth. Deduplication gets around this because it only stores changed or net new data and then only that data needs to be replicated; much more WAN friendly.
These capabilities in backup alone are not enough to justify a $2 billion investment in deduplication technology. What is driving these companies to pay this type of money is what deduplication can do to the rest of the storage spectrum; primary storage and archive storage.
For example if a company armed with deduplication can implement this into primary storage in a way that causes little to no performance impact yet can increase storage efficiencies 60% to 70%, that could get interesting. Imagine if you needed 80TB's of storage but one of your vendors only needed to supply you with 40TB because they had this technology, clearly that vendor would have a significant advantage in winning your business.
Clearly this technology is not limited to Data Domain and there are a host of other vendors that can provide compression, deduplication or both at different levels of storage. The publicity generated by this bidding war obviously helps Data Domain but it also helps many of the other deduplication suppliers.
What all of this should be telling you is that deduplication is important, how it is used and how it is implemented in the various storage tiers matters and this is as good a time as any to begin to learn about and implement the technology.
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George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.