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With the exploding amount of data available through rapidly expanding technology, IT teams are searching for a means to store all this data in a way that maximizes its accessibility and usefulness. Increasingly, these professionals and their companies are turning to object storage, a means to organize this unstructured data securely while capitalizing on its benefits. Object storage provides data storage capabilities that arrange this data according to its:
- Value (the actual data)
- Key (a unique identifier)
- Metadata (associated information for more robust analysis and usefulness)
Because object storage makes use of a simple, flat structure, it is more efficient than prior storage models, especially on a larger scale, such as the petabyte-level range and even larger.
What is Object Based Storage?
To understand what object based storage is, it is helpful to first explore why object storage technology meets a critical need. As advanced technology has allowed users to collect more and increased types of data, the need for a system to take advantage of this data has grown as well. The bulk of data collected today is vastly different than the data found in previous generations of technology.
Data used to be “structured,” meaning it was quantitative and easily organized in an orderly format. Examples of these inputs include names, addresses, phone numbers, financial account numbers, etc. Access to and ease of interpretation for this structured data was very simple. However, a drawback to this form of information is that its application and use is limited – it can be used only for the purpose for which it was designed.
In recent years, collected data has grown significantly in the unstructured area. In fact, by 2025 it is estimated that 80-90 percent of enterprise data collected will be of the unstructured format. This form of information is more qualitative data that is more difficult to arrange and organize. This data is found in bodies of information such as emails, texts, web pages, videos, social media posts, images, etc. This broader aggregation of data allows the user to define and collect specific information from the storage system as it is needed. Though more complex to use, the benefits include greater speed and adaptability.
To accommodate this new body of unstructured data, a new architecture was needed to address storage needs and accessibility. The older file storage and block storage methods were too limiting, so a new storage system was born.
Object storage systems adapt to unstructured data storage seamlessly. This system manages stored data using three aspects of the information:
- Object – this is the data itself, also known as the data’s “value”
- Metadata – the descriptive attributes of the object
- Key – a unique identifier for each object
Rather than storing this information in an hierarchical system like file storage, object storage places the data in a vast, flat storage architecture. Without the folder hierarchy, this flat model of data storage is much more efficient than previous data management systems.
As we progress into the future, more and more of our data retention needs will include unstructured data. Data storage methods will increasingly move toward object storage services to gather more intelligence and increase the advantages gained through this storage architecture. These advantages include:
- Deeper understanding of customer needs and desires
- Stronger product development
- Lower operating costs
- More effective marketing efforts
Benefits of Object Storage
There are many advantages of object storage. These benefits begin with scalability. Virtually unlimited scale proves to be among the strongest advantages of an object storage system. When more storage is needed because of large files or large volumes of data, it is simple to add more devices. In object storage, each data object is stored across multiple devices, servers, and even data centers over multiple regions. Data replication across these multiple storage pools results in greater data durability and availability. If one storage device or cluster fails, the required pieces of data are easily accessible on another device in another location.
An object storage platform also provides data immutability. The permanence of objects is beneficial as it provides for data integrity, which is highly valued when compliance and data audits are relevant. Data protection and security is improved because there is no risk of data tampering – any modifications to stored data result in a completely new object, leaving the original object intact. Accordingly, data preservation is another strong advantage of an object storage service.
By eliminating the hierarchical storage structure used by file systems, object storage increases efficiency through faster navigation to the desired piece of data. Using a less complex structure, object storage products represent a significant advantage when dealing with large objects and higher volumes of information.
Naturally, increased efficiency lowers costs, and object storage also allows you to purchase only wheat you need when you need it. When demands on your storage pool increase or decrease, a cost adjustment is simple and straightforward as your storage solution is applied.
Object Storage Use Cases and Examples
Cloud storage is an ideal solution for a data lake. Through could service providers, object storage gains a highly scalable platform that provides data availability and durability. Users have added flexibility with no limitations on storage needs from gigabytes to petabytes of data and beyond.
– Example: Microsoft Azure Blob Storage, Google Cloud Storage, Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)
Because of its high scalability, object storage provides the opportunity for large data sets and deep analytical analysis when assessing operational performance and customer insights.
– Example: Amazon S3, Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS)
Cloud-native application data
Through interconnected microservices, cloud native applications provide nimble solutions to complex data requirements. These flexible and scalable solutions help increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and enhance availability of data.
– Example: Microsoft Azure Service Fabric (ASF)
Cloud object storage is a more efficient means to replace traditional disk and tape data storage methods. Object storage preserves data integrity to enable long-term data retention to meet security and compliance demands.
– Example: Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), transaction records for banks and other financial institutions
Object storage generates the efficiencies and cost management processes to apply toward broadly distributed multimedia files such as music, images, and videos.
– Example: Streaming platforms (Amazon Prime, Netflix, etc.), movie studios
Backup and recovery
Through data replication across multiple data centers, object storage equips users with uninterrupted services as well as data durability. Additionally, data immutability establishes confidence in the case of disaster recovery.
– Example: IBM Cloud Object Storage
Common Options for Object Storage
There are numerous options when it comes to object storage systems, depending on the scalability and flexibility required. Each situation provides a unique range of needs, and each of these circumstances is supported by at least one of the choices available in object storage architecture.
On-premises object storage
On-premises object storage systems function as a part of the organization’s infrastructure. By housing data centers on campus, users gain more local oversight of administration, compliance needs, and data security.
– Pros: User maintains complete authority over all aspects of the data management, including the choice of hardware that houses it.
– Challenges: This solution requires a higher level of on staff expertise to administer, and set up costs may be significant.
Cloud-based object storage
Cloud-based object storage outsources the housing of data to cloud providers. These cloud merchants administer the hardware that supports the user’s needs.
– Pros: Because the system is cloud-based, access can be made from any location; and on-site expertise needs are lower. Plus, there is an ease of scalability as needs change.
– Challenges: Cloud-based object storage generates increased governance and compliance concerns if data storage falls outside direct user control.
Hybrid-cloud object storage
Hybrid-cloud object based storage is a blend of cloud-based and on-premises storage systems. This hybrid model provides flexibility when compliance and other factors may be a concern.
– Pros: Sensitive data may be kept on-site while scalability and data backup are enhanced through cloud computing options.
– Challenges: The blend of storage method services is more complex to administer.
Software-defined storage (SDS)
Software defined storage builds object storage solutions onto existing hardware through software applications.
– Pros: Customizable solutions increase flexibility without adding expensive hardware.
– Challenges: High expertise is required to configure and maintain the system.
These hardware solutions simplify setup and launch for a “ready to go” object storage system that is ready to deploy right out of the box. In addition to the hardware, these solutions may also include software that is ready made for the user’s particular application.
– Pros: Configuration and deployment are faster and less complex.
– Challenges: Systems are less customizable and may require a larger initial investment.
Specialized object storage solutions
Specialized object storage solutions provide specific object storage solutions that are customized for distinct applications. These solutions work well when usage calls for certain compliance requirements, data retention, or robust workload stipulations.
– Pros: These solutions are optimally designed for specific uses. When your needs match a specialized object storage solution, it is an ideal resolution.
– Challenges: There is low flexibility if needs change. Also, specialization often carries a higher price tag.
Open-source object storage software
Open-source object storage software offers a great deal of adaptability to create an object storage solution. Users rely on open-source software to build the solution that is right for them.
– Pros: This community-based solution allows for high customization and low cost while also working collaboratively with others within a wide knowledge base.
– Challenges: Security may be a concern for some applications, and in-house expertise is necessary for administration.
Object Storage vs. Traditional Storage Methods
Over time, data storage options have adapted well to meet the needs of different users and organizations. When data was primarily structured, the traditional file-based and block-based storage methods worked perfectly well. However, with the advent of voluminous unstructured data made available through the internet, object storage systems have solved many organizations’ needs as their data usage has grown. All of these storage methods are well-suited for their purposes, allowing organizations to select the best model for their specific demands.
Traditional data storage systems fulfill certain requirements perfectly well, but there are some minor differences in how they operate. File storage organizes files in folders within a hierarchy of directories and subdirectories. Access to each file is gained by specifying the path of directories and subdirectories to their specific location. File storage excels when data is fairly limited and easily organized. As the amount of data and associated files grows, however, file storage becomes more laborious to maintain.
Block storage adds efficiency to the file storage method. Instead of a file folder, block storage separates a file into different segments of data and then stores these as blocks wherever space is available across the storage platform. Then, when a file is needed, all the blocks are recalled and reassembled for use. By avoiding the rigid structure of file directories, the process is more efficient than file storage.
Object storage has evolved as a better solution for the growing amount of unstructured data. File and block storage systems are not equipped to handle this form of data well. As noted above, object storage capitalizes on a flat structure and uses the value, key, and associated metadata of the object to be stored. It has proven to be a cost-effective method of storing large volumes of unstructured data that is more prevalent today.
Object Storage and Traditional Storage Comparison
Each method of data storage offers advantages and disadvantages, depending on the data and its use. The primary differences are listed below along with a brief description of how each method relates to the specific function.
Object storage: data objects are accessed through a specific identifier, which avoids cumbersome file directories
Traditional storage: information is accessed via specific pathways or block addresses
Object storage: each unique object is stored along with an identifying key and metadata in a large, flat structure for efficient scaling
Traditional storage: directories and subdirectories form a hierarchical structure for file-based storage, and block-based storage makes use of broken down units of data, or blocks, to be reassembled when needed
Object storage: metadata can provide a great deal of information about the characteristics and traits of the stored object
Traditional storage: metadata is more limited in scope and contains fewer descriptors
Object storage: objects are not modified without creating a new object, which is advantageous for data integrity and security
Traditional storage: files are easily re-written, which makes data susceptible to alteration and risks compliance issues
Object storage: object storage is highly scalable, making adjustments on the fly easy and efficient
Traditional storage: scalability is rather limited
Object storage: especially adept at storing large amounts of unstructured data
Traditional storage: better suited for common applications and structured data
Object storage: because of its advantages in immutability, replication, and data retention, object storage provides enhanced security features
Traditional storage: security can be written into each system based on usage, but traditional storage does not possess many of the built-in security features of object storage in its design
Each storage system provides unique benefits and limitations. Object storage is best suited for organizations dealing with higher volumes of unstructured data while file or block storage may be a better option for structured data and when traditional business applications are needed.
Object Storage in the Cloud
As we have explored, there are many ways to deploy object storage in any situation. While on-premises storage management is the right solution for some, remote data storage may be the better option for others. Many object storage solutions employ cloud technology to achieve the benefits that it provides. Cloud technology makes scalability extremely simple as customers pay only for what is needed. When storage requirements change, it is easy to expand or cost-effectively decrease capability. Additionally, data replication across the cloud system assures data durability and availability with the built-in security of object storage technology. By using cloud solutions to resolve storage needs, users avoid the high costs and technical requirements of on-site hardware.
The Future and Applications of Object Storage
We have witnessed incredible advancements in technology in recent years, and we can anticipate similar progress in the months and years to come. Fortunately, the data storage solutions available on-premises and off-premises currently provide a wide range of options for users of all kinds. As technology rapidly continues to change and expand moving into the future, the need for object storage of unstructured data will become even more prevalent. Be certain to include in your strategic planning a projection for your specific object storage requirements. Object storage capabilities will grow more specialized for specific uses, and advanced knowledge of your needs will be highly advantageous as the industry becomes more refined.
Looking into the future, we know that object storage is here to stay – at least until the next significant advancement comes along! The good news is, that ready-made solutions are available to address your organization’s specific needs and keep your operations moving forward efficiently as well.