Object storage on the rise
Despite its advantages, object storage isn't right for every environment or application.
Object storage technology is rapidly coming into its own as an option for a wide range of applications, including backups, archives, medical images and video. But storage experts warn that performance issues and a lack of standardisation among object storage interfaces mean it's not a match for every application.
Object storage takes the technology of file storage and makes it more efficient, says Graeme O'Driscoll, innovation and technology manager for cloud at Internet Solutions. It's a cheaper form of storage than more traditional block storage, because it addresses many of the inefficiencies inherent in block or file storage. Block storage is somewhat wasteful because block sizes are fixed, resulting in 'half empty' blocks. This means companies are paying for space they don't use, but the technology is unbeatable for high-performance databases, O'Driscoll says.
Object-based storage systems throw out the block file system approach. They don't need as much metadata as file systems to store and access files. Rather than using hierarchies, which become slower and more complex as they grow, object storage uses a structurally flat data environment that scales out more easily.
Object storage makes data retrievable with the use of meta-data tags. This enables users to be more specific with their search criteria and find exactly what they're looking for. The downside of this technology is the time it takes to insert the metadata tags, says O'Driscoll.
Strengths and weaknesses
"There's a trade-off between input efficiency and search and retrieval efficiency," he adds. Before companies rush to buy object storage, they should carefully consider their storage needs because the technologies have different strengths and weaknesses.
Object storage copes well with unstructured data and is best used when end-users read data infrequently or when the data does not change often. It's a cheaper and more scalable form of storage, but at the cost of performance, although newer object storage solutions are beginning to offer massive performance improvements over earlier technology.
A recent survey by Caringo, an object storage software company, sheds some light on object storage use by global companies. The results show a strong inclination toward software-based object storage solutions over appliances, with 90% of respondents saying they preferred software and only 10% preferring an appliance-based object storage system.
An overwhelming number (98%) said they see value in object storage, but when asked to name actual or perceived benefits, responses varied widely with the exception of scalability - mentioned by 86% of respondents. Other benefits listed include data protection and security, providing access to cloud data stores, ease of use or maintenance, and meeting compliance goals.
In related questions about the use and applications for object storage in their own environments, more than 71% listed active archiving, 53% cloud storage, 41% big data storage, and about 30% each compliance or disaster recovery.