A couple of days ago, a business user asked me if our enterprise IT provides object-based storage. I heard the term object storage before but I have little knowledge about it. I only know it’s a type of storage that is data aware. I replied “No, we don’t offer it yet.” But in the back of my mind, I was asking myself, should we be offering object storage to our users? Are we so behind, we haven’t implemented this cool technology? Is our business losing its competitive advantage because we haven’t been using it?
As I research more on the topic, I understood what it entails, its advantages and disadvantages.
Object storage is one of the hot technologies that is expected to grow adoption this year. As defined by Wikipedia, object storage, “is a storage architecture that manages data as objects, as opposed to other storage architectures like file systems which manage data as a file hierarchy and block storage which manages data as blocks within sectors and tracks. Each object typically includes the data itself, a variable amount of metadata, and a globally unique identifier.”
Its extended metadata allows for some intelligence in the data. For example, a user or application can tag a data object what type of file it is, how it should be used, who will use it, its contents, how long it should live, and so on. That metadata information could, in turn, inform a backup application, for instance, that the object is classified or that it should be deleted on a certain date. This makes tasks like automation and management simpler for the administrator.
The globally unique identifier allows a server or end user to retrieve the data without needing to know the physical location or hierarchical location of the data. This makes it a useful data storage for long-term data retention, backup, file-sharing, and cloud application. In fact, Facebook uses object storage when you upload a picture.
One drawback of object storage is performance – slow throughput and latency due to the amount of metadata. Another drawback is that data consistency is achieved slowly. Whenever an object is updated, the change has to be propagated to all of the replicas which takes time before the latest version becomes available. With these properties, it’s well suited for data that doesn’t change much, like backups, archives, video, and audio files. That’s why it’s heavily used by Facebook, Spotify, and other cloud companies because once you upload a picture or music file, it doesn’t change much and it stays forever.
Object storage may be one of the hottest technologies in the storage space, but for now, I don’t see compelling use cases in enterprise IT. Object storage is unsuitable for data that changes frequently. File systems and block storage do just fine in storing data that rarely changes or data that frequently changes. Enterprise backup systems are versatile as well for long-term data retention and backups. Object storage may provide more information about the data, but storage administrators primary concerns are to deliver the data faster and more efficiently, as well as to protect its integrity.
Object storage distributed nature enables IT shops to use low cost storage, but in reality, in enterprise IT, NAS and SAN are prevalent because they are reliable and easier to manage.
We need well defined use cases and compelling advantages for object-based storage to be widely used in enterprise IT.