There are several methods of storing digital information, whether in the local data center or in the cloud. Each has its own distinct attributes and advantages. Object storage – also referred to as object-based storage – is one method commonly used in cloud storage and enterprise distributed systems.

What you need to know when determining how to store information, is which method is best for performance, availability, and security.

What is Object Storage?

First, it’s important to understand that units of information can be referred to as “objects”. It is these objects that businesses need to store efficiently to maximize retrieval time and utilize available storage resources effectively.

Objects may vary greatly in size and function:

  • A photo of the family pet
  • Spreadsheets or Word documents
  • Music or video files
  • Large graphic design files
  • Documents containing thousands of pages

While the content is considerably different in each of these objects, they all contain certain common properties:

Object Data – What is object data? This is the actual information/data content of the object, whether it’s a graphic file or a document.

Metadata – Metadata is essentially data about data: who created it, when, what type of data it is, how it is to be used, security attributes/confidentiality, and anything else that may be relevant to the use of the object.

Identifier – Each object has a global identifier that is unique to the object. This is comprised of an address that tells a system where the object resides, making it retrievable regardless of where it is physically located – across servers, data centers, or on a system halfway around the world.

Managing Object Level Storage

Objects are stored as a unit that encapsulates the object data, metadata, and unique identifier is one complete object. This provides high availability for object storage. This is only one of the reasons that many online services such as Facebook utilize object storage technology to store such data as photos and music files.

Due to the inherent flexibility of object storage, businesses can save operating costs from lower operating costs and less management required by technicians.

One drawback to the object storage method is that the object is referenced as an entire unit. Where file storage may retrieve and/or update a small segment of a file for editing and rewriting any updates, an object must be retrieved, edited, and updated as a whole. This can have performance implications.

Advantages of Object Storage

There are several significant advantages inherent in object storage technology:

Scalability – object store file systems have an innate capability to expand without regard to storage infrastructure, as opposed to such storage methodologies as block storage. Object storage capability to expand is virtually unlimited.

Metadata – objects can contain virtually unlimited metadata, to house security information, ownership, and even important information related to the application it is related to.

Storage Management – since object storage is more readily expandable by adding storage nodes, it is more readily expanded with minor effort. Multiple copies of objects are typically stored in distributed systems, providing data redundancy and protection from hardware failures.

Where Object Storage Shines

Object storage is especially well-suited to specific uses by enterprises or cloud computing:

  • Applications that write objects once, but are most often just read, not written to or updated
  • Storage of static web content or information such as photos, historical documents, or music
  • Backup processing – generating sets of data objects that are archival in nature, and will only be retrieved in the event of disaster or data loss.

Drawbacks to Object Storage

There are instances where object storage may not be the best choice:

High-volume transaction-based applications – these utilize relatively small amounts of data such as records in multiple files, and are not well-suited for object use.

Additionally, object storage does not support locking features that other methods provide for ensuring integrity of multiple concurrent updates.

Alternatives to Object Storage

There are other methods of storing enterprise data that have their own advantages and disadvantages:

File Storage – storing sets of data as individual files provides high performance of small data segments, but may suffer from the lack of built-in data redundancy across distributed systems.

Block Storage – block storage systems also break data into small blocks of data, meaning a file will be stored in fixed blocks across storage media. This can provide improved performance for applications that will read/write portions of data frequently, but can also increase costs as data volumes increase, requiring additional hardware for storage needs.

Object Store File System

Multiple vendors offer complete object store file systems that store and manage object data efficiently. These systems are presented to IT leadership and cloud storage providers as having many attractive attributes for storing high volumes of unstructured data with object methodology:

  • Scalability to address limitations over alternative systems
  • Lower cost of ownership due to lower initial cost and reduced operational expense
  • Automated management through software-enabled services

Use cases that address the pros and cons of each storage methodology must be considered to determine which storage infrastructure will best serve any given enterprise. In many instances, the right answer will be a combination of storage approaches.

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