The Right Time and Place for Object Storage

    Object storage appears to be the wave of the future in enterprise circles, primarily because it is the preferred solution for scale-out cloud architectures, but the fact remains that organizations will likely have to maintain file and block storage for a while longer at least, and probably forever.

    This is due to the varied performance characteristics of each solution and the need to maintain highly tailored service for a wide variety of data types and applications.

    According to IDC, object storage has been on a tear lately, with capacity gains exceeding 30 percent annually and a total installed base of nearly 300 exabytes expected by the decade’s end. Even more interesting, however, is the fact that demand is not fueled by traditional applications in backup and archiving but in advanced analytics, high-performance computing, mobile and compliance. This is spurring mainstream IT vendors to supplement their portfolios with object storage, particularly solutions that can be easily integrated into leading cloud services like Amazon S3 and OpenStack Swift.

    Indeed, says Next Platform’s Dan Robinson, the ability for object storage to mimic the services available on the large public clouds makes it a desirable addition to on-premises storage infrastructure. Not only does it provide a single global namespace, but many organizations are finding that it is easier to manage and can cut capacity overhead by some 20 percent compared to block and file systems. As 451 Research analyst Simon Robinson notes, traditional SAN and NAS architectures were designed for the days when 100 TB was a lot of volume, but they are proving to be exceedingly complex and costly as organizations enter the multi-petabyte range of Big Data and the Internet of Things.

    Still, it would be a mistake to simply look at expanding data loads and just throw object storage into the data center. The UK Register’s Chris Evans highlights a long list of attributes that must be carefully weighed in order to match the right storage architecture to the needs of the workload. These include everything from scalability requirements and metadata management to compliance and security. Any given object, after all, is essentially a binary file that has no specific format. While this allows objects to provide broad flexibility in terms of size, data type and a host of other factors, it also requires deep visibility through extensive metadata so the enterprise can keep track of where and how its data is being stored.

    The rise of object storage, therefore, is spurring demand for new object management solutions. A company called Leonovus, for instance, is out with the Web Integrated Services Environment (WISE), a software-defined object storage management system that allows the enterprise to extend governance, risk management and compliance across distributed storage architectures. The system essentially provides a framework to link all storage nodes in a common, real-time communications network. At the same time, it provides an erasure coding mechanism that breaks data into fragments so they can be more easily dispersed and secured over hybrid clouds. In this way, the enterprise can implement highly scalable, distributed object stores using multiple vendor platforms.

    The need for scale is becoming paramount for the enterprise, so much so that it is willing to upend decades of storage infrastructure in order to get it. At the same time, however, data requirements are expected to run the gamut in terms of speed, availability, protection and a host of other attributes, which means the enterprise needs to maintain a comprehensive storage posture during this time of digital transformation.

    Object storage can wear many hats in the enterprise, but user needs should always come first. Until it can support the full gamut of applications and workloads, object storage should at best remain first among equals in the storage environment.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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