‘Object storage’ is a subject on many CIO action lists for this year. But what exactly is it—and why is it vital for your organization to get to grips with?
Despite the sound of it, ‘object storage’ is not just a section of the Ikea catalogue. It’s a different way of thinking about data storage that can address the challenge of massive growth in data volume all organizations are facing today. It can bring greater simplicity and efficiency to enterprise IT while reducing cost. It’s also a topic that all organizations need in order to exploit a range of data-driven, value-generating new opportunities—like cloud computing, big data analytics and the Internet of Things.
So what is object storage—and how does it differ from traditional data storage models?
Block And File—The Long-Time Storage Champions
The most common enterprise data storage models are ‘block storage’ and ‘file storage’. Block storage became increasingly popular in the mid-1990s, as computers in the data center moved from each using its own directly-attached storage device, to sharing a single large storage device or ‘array’. This more flexible and efficient approach creates a ‘storage area network’ or SAN.
File storage, utilizes a metaphor from the traditional paper-based office—representing data as files (such as documents, presentations and spreadsheets), arranged in a series of nested folders.
The 3 Pillars of Modern Enterprise Data Storage
Data stored in fixed-size
'blocks' in a rigid
arrangement -ideal for
Data stored as 'files' in
'folders' -ideal for active
Data stored as 'objects' in
scalable 'storage' -ideal
for unstructured big data,
analytics and archiving
The Need For a New Storage Alternative
While both block and file storage have many advantages, they both face challenges with the changing nature and explosive growth of data. More and more data created today is ‘unstructured’—individual items of information. This kind of data is not organized in a ‘structured’ database, so block storage is not suited for it.
Some of the unstructured data growth is in terms of files and documents—so file storage can be used. However, the sheer volume of data is beyond what most file systems were designed to handle. The hierarchical nature of file storage becomes ever more complex to sustain and manage as the amount of data grows.
In the late 1990s, a new kind of storage was developed to address these emerging challenges—‘object storage’. In this storage architecture, data items are not stored in blocks, files or folders, but rather in flexibly sized containers called ‘objects’. Placing data items in object storage is quick and easy—like putting items in a bucket. This analogy has led to 'bucket' becoming the generic term for a volume of object storage.
The Competitive Advantage—Why You Should Care About Object Storage
Large enterprises have been early adopters of object architectures and have used it to gain a competitive advantage in their industries. With the latest generation of object storage solutions, companies of all sizes can now realize these advantages. Many organizations initially deploy object architecture because of the huge cost savings realized by tiering warm and cold file data to object storage for long-term retention. At the same time, object storage supports new workloads like modern application development. Ultimately customers are leveraging object storage to analyze their data and gain insights about customers. A good example is how Uber disrupted the taxi industry with cloud technology and analytics. The bottom line is that object storage enables cloud technologies that businesses will leverage to gain real competitive advantage.
Object Storage—Valet Parking For Your Data
To illustrate how object storage works, computer experts often use a car parking analogy. Imagine your car is an item of unstructured data. You want to 'store' or park it in a parking lot. You have three options.
‘Parking Your Data’—Storage Models Compared