Object Storage: 8 Things to Know


Object storage is one of the hottest technology trends, but it isn’t a particularly new idea: The concept surfaced in the mid-90s and by 2005 a number of alternatives had entered the market. Resistance from the entrenched file (NAS) and block (SAN) vendors, coupled with a new interface method, slowed adoption of object storage. Today, with the brilliant success of Amazon Web Services’ S3 storage system, object storage is here to stay and is making huge gains against older storage methods.

Object storage is well suited to the new data environment. Unstructured data, which includes large media files and so-called big data objects, is growing at a much faster rate than structured data and, overall, data itself is growing at a phenomenal rate.

Experience has taught us that traditional block systems become complex to manage at a relatively low scale, while the concept of creating a single pool of data breaks down as the number of appliances increases, especially if the pool crosses the boundaries of different equipment types. Filers have hierarchies of file folders which become cumbersome at scale, while today’s thousands of virtual instances make file-sharing systems clumsy.

An inherent design feature of object stores is distribution of objects across all of the storage devices, or at least into subsets if there is a large number of devices in the cluster. This removes a design weakness of the block/file approach, where failure in an appliance or in more than a single drive could cause either a loss of data availability or even loss of data itself.

Object stores typically use an algorithm such as CRUSH to spread chunks of a data object out in a known and predictable way. Coupling this with replication, and more recently with erasure coding, means that several nodes or drives can fail without materially impacting data integrity or access performance. The object approach also effectively parallelizes access to larger objects, since a number of nodes will all be transferring pieces of the object at the same time.

There are now a good number of software-only vendors today, all of which are installable on a wide variety of COTS hardware platforms. This includes the popular Ceph open source solution, backed by Red Hat. The combination of any of these software stacks and low-cost COTS gear makes object stores attractive on a price-per-terabyte basis, compared to traditional proprietary NAS or SAN gear.

Object storage is evolving to absorb the other storage models by offering a “universal storage” model where object, file and block access portals all talk to the same pool of raw object storage.  Likely, universal storage will deploy as object storage, with the other two access modes being used to create a file or block secondary storage to say all-flash arrays or filers. In the long term, universal storage looks to be the converging solution for the whole industry.

This trend is enhanced by the growth of software-defined storage (SDS). Object stores all run natively in a COTS standard server engine, which means the transition from software built onto an appliance to software virtualized into the instance pool is in most cases trivial. This is most definitely not the case for older proprietary NAS or SAN code. For object stores, SDS makes it possible to scale services such as compression and deduplication easily. It also opens up rich services such as data indexing.

Continue on to get up to speed on object storage and learn how it’s shaking up enterprise storage.

(Image: Kitch Bain/Shutterstock)



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