While object storage is not novel technology, it can still be overwhelming when getting started. Here’s a definitive guide to object-based storage with everything you need to know.
What is Object Storage?
Object storage is an architecture for data storage that manages data as objects, which are files with customized metadata and a unique identifier, rather than as files nested within a file and folder structure or as blocks within sectors and tracks.
It is somewhat similar to block storage in that each object has a unique identifier, but it enables the addition of more metadata that can be customized with detailed information about the files stored in each object. This enhanced metadata makes it easier for searchers to find what they are looking for and it also accelerates the retrieval process.
Why is it important?
As businesses grow, they’re managing rapidly expanding but isolated pools of data from many sources that are used by any number of applications and business processes and end users. Today, much of this data is unstructured and ends up in multiple different formats and storage media, and does not easily fit into a central repository. This adds complexity and slows down innovation because data is not accessible to be used for analysis, machine learning (ML), or new cloud-native applications. Object storage helps break down these silos by providing massively scalable, cost-effective storage to store any type of data in its native format. It removes the complexity, capacity constraints, and cost barriers that plague traditional storage systems because it delivers unlimited scalability at low per-gigabyte prices.
You can manage unstructured data in one place with a user-friendly application interface. You can use policies to optimize data storage costs and automatically switch your storage tier when necessary. Cloud object storage makes it easier to perform analysis and gain insights, allowing for faster decision-making.
While objects can be stored on-premises, it is built for the cloud and delivers virtually unlimited scalability, high durability, and cost-effectiveness. With cloud object storage, data is readily accessible from anywhere.
How does it work?
Object storage keeps blocks of data together in one unit and assigns a unique identifier with rich metadata to each object for easier searching anywhere within a distributed data pool, whether on-premises or across multiple network systems and geographic areas.
It eliminates the hierarchical structure used by other systems by using a flat address space. This way, it can be scaled up or down easily, accommodating rapid expansions and contractions as storage workloads vary.
In addition, to make updates to stored data, object storage systems save new copies of the entire asset and not just small portions that were modified. Because of that, it has more durable data than other systems.
Unfortunately, a heavier load of metadata demands more overhead and slows data modification processes. That being the case, traditional object storage was better suited to data needing less frequent access, such as:
- Backup processing for archive retrieval following a disaster or data loss
- Static web content, such as photos, historical documents, music, etc.
- Applications that write just once, or are just read and/or not updated frequently
Some key benefits
- Scalability: Objects get stored in a flat environment, such as a server. Therefore, additional servers, or dedicated servers, can get added to the object storage cluster in parallel as more space is needed.
- Cloud Compatible: Object storage is a powerful, multi-tenant storage tool with Amazon S3 compatibility. Not only can S3 APIs be used by agencies to store video and image content for their projects, but businesses can make use of it as well.
- Affordable: The volume-based nature of the pricing structure makes object storage a more cost-effective solution. In addition, developers, agencies, and business owners do not have to house or lease equipment for storage. Instead, they can take advantage of a hosting provider’s built-out infrastructure already optimized for storage.
What are the use cases for Object Storage?
Object storage is not new. It’s been around quite a while. Its use originated primarily in supercomputers but grew to market prominence around 20 years ago with its use in on-premises archiving systems. It was deemed to be a great fit for backup and recovery, as well as long-term data retention and disaster recovery, due to its immutability, limitless scalability, and low cost.
And interestingly, object storage in the cloud has become the methodology of choice for most cloud-based services. It is used in many popular online consumer services like Facebook, Spotify, and Dropbox and forms the foundation for commercial cloud services like Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Microsoft Azure Blob storage, and Google Cloud storage.
In addition to archiving, it is well suited for large sets of unstructured data like images, sound, and video files as well as log files and Internet of Things (IoT) sensor data whether they are housed on-premises or in the cloud.
When shouldn’t you use Object Storage?
The scale of object storage comes at the cost of performance. The separate layers mean there’s more distance between you and your data, so it isn’t as fast as block or file storage. You can potentially connect millions of clients to object storage, but each client will get individually less throughput compared to local block storage.
You also can’t edit individual objects, only write new ones. If you’re making frequent, small edits to an object, then object storage is the wrong choice. Don’t try to run a database on object storage!
Organizations have been growing increasingly interested in using object storage in the cloud for data backup and you can see why. It is perfect for backup data as it can scale indefinitely, is incredibly cost-effective, works practically anywhere, and isn’t limited by size or format.