How to Use Single Instancing to Control Storage Expense

By Stuart Butts  |  Posted 2009-08-03

How to Use Single Instancing to Control Storage Expense

In a world where 80 percent of CIOs admit to never seeing their energy bills, enterprises are under the illusion that they have limitless inexpensive storage. While no one can hold back the rapid escalation in storage demand, the opportunity does exist to control storage resources and expense by employing a familiar green mantra: "reduce, reuse, recycle." No electronic IT is inherently green; it depends on how it is used and what it replaces.

Electronic archives are an operational area that requires new attention in order to generate optimal results, as demands for document storage continue to grow exponentially. One key strategy is single-instance storage. Contemporary, server-based technology can be used to enable single instancing for High-Volume Transaction Output (HVTO) applications, as well as deliver dramatic reductions in the cost of electronic document storage.

By way of explanation, HVTO encompasses internal content such as operational reports and customer-facing content such as statements, policies, bills and routine correspondence. These documents, traditionally destined for physical print and fulfillment, are typically stored in Enterprise Content Management (ECM) systems for internal stakeholder use and online customer presentation. In an effort to reduce storage requirements, ECM vendors have historically offered compression options. But compression is largely ineffective when dealing with graphically-rich, customer-facing content.

Single-instance storage is "a system's ability to keep one copy of content that multiple users or computers share. It is a means to eliminate data duplication and to increase efficiency." Single instancing, when combined with transformation, is a perfect example of "reduce, reuse and recycle" at work. Transformation is the process in which output is fed to another system, perhaps in a different (that is, transformed) print or presentation language. Single instancing reduces the overall storage footprint by storing information only once and reuses common composition elements from high-volume documents. High-speed retrieval and on the fly format transformation permits recycling of stored content and content repurposing.

High-Volume Transaction Output Applications

High-Volume Transaction Output applications

To understand how this is accomplished, let us look at a typical scenario in the HVTO world. High-volume documents are produced in batches of hundreds of thousands of documents-or perhaps even millions. Typically, they are produced by corporate applications and composition engines on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis. The layout of every document in a batch is identical; only the individual transactional data presented within the document is unique (such as name, address, line items, usage statistics, policy details, etc.).

Composition elements such as branding, graphics, fonts, forms and marketing messages are identical across every document in the batch. These common resources are present in every document, yet are stored over and over again inside the ECM solution as one complete set for each individual customer document. The size of the composition resources associated with a customer-facing document today far exceeds the size of the individual transactional content within that document-often by a factor of 10:1.

Solutions that offer single instancing technology for HVTO intelligently separate the common resources found within a high-volume document batch from the unique transactional content. Pointers are inserted within the transactional content that link the now much smaller transactional document to the composition resources. This process happens seamlessly during the loading of the ECM solution.

When the ECM solution receives a document retrieval request, the composition resources and the transactional content are combined in real time, perfectly reconstituting the original document with 100 percent accuracy. The storage savings are often dramatic, and it is not uncommon to see a 90 percent or higher storage reduction. In many cases, ROI can be achieved in months.

Potential Savings of Single Instancing Solutions


Potential savings of single instancing solutions

There is a simple process that can be used to analyze the potential savings of single instancing solutions. This entails a review of production schedules and an analysis of samples of the target documents. This is needed in order to assess the overall storage reduction opportunity and to calculate the potential cost reduction.

One example of the ROI that can be achieved through single instancing is an insurance company that was producing 2,000,000 documents per day. While an individual document was not large-averaging 70KB each-the total daily storage requirement was approximately 140GB per day (2,000,000 x 70KB). The batch was processed 22 times a month, for a total storage requirement of 3,080GB per month.

Based on industry standards and customer input, it was estimated that the fully burdened cost of storage was $25 per GB per month. The total cost of storage was $77,000 per month (3,080GB x $25 per GB per month). By implementing single instancing, the overall daily storage footprint could be reduced by 83 percent, for a total savings of $63,910 per month or $766,929 annually.

Organizations can take advantage of single instancing while storing either native print stream formats or much larger visual formats such as PDF or TIFF. As the document is reconstituted on the fly upon retrieval, the opportunity exists to recycle the content and present the document in any format the customer wishes. The opportunity also exists to extract portions of the information and present reusable extracts in, say, CSV) format.

We once thought that our water resources were unlimited. We have come to understand that this is untrue. The illusion of unlimited, cheap storage is also a fallacy. The true, fully-burdened cost of storage goes beyond the cost of the disk to include the operational costs associated with backup media, data center floor space and the staff to support the infrastructure. Perhaps even more importantly, the environmental cost of the electricity for the server and the cooling equipment cannot be underestimated.

With large enterprises spending as much as 40 percent of their IT budgets on their storage infrastructures, there is greater incentive than ever to apply the "reduce, reuse, and recycle" mantra to achieve hard cost savings and enjoy the benefits of green IT.

Stuart Butts is co-founder, chairman, CEO and President of Xenos Group, Inc. His vision and commitment have been instrumental in carrying Xenos forward to its present position as a world leader in its segment. A successful entrepreneur and creative leader, Stuart has founded a number of leading-edge technology companies in both Canada and the United States. He is a graduate of Trent University and the University of Toronto Law School, and is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada. He can be reached at

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