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What is Object Storage?

Now this is where things get fun. With the move towards cloud computing and service delivery over the public internet, traditional storage access paradigms like NAS and SAN are starting to see new options move into the neighborhood. While probably more closely related to NAS vs. SAN, object-based storage does not provide a block-oriented interface or access via a file system and file folders, but rather it organizes data into variable-sized containers, or objects. Each object has the data itself (a stream of bytes) as well as metadata (data about the data). Objects are then organized in a flat hierarchical structure of buckets and accounts.

Unlike low-level SCSI-based commands to manipulate the blocks, access to the object is achieved through higher-level commands that manipulate the object in its entirety - create, delete, get, put, etc. Information about where the object physically resides and security mechanisms associated with the object are stored as metadata.

Just as NAS and other file-based systems are accessed via protocols like CIFS and NFS, object-based systems are similarly accessed. In this case, object storage is accessed by web service APIs such as REST, SOAP, or Amazon S3 via protocols such as HTTP, SMTP, or XML. The main thing to note is that the commands to locate and act on the object are embedded - for example, in the URL string within the HTTP request.

While not the same thing as cloud storage, these two are closely related. Most cloud storage offerings are utilizing object storage devices and mechanisms as the method to deliver those services. The stateless nature of object storage means it is not generally an appropriate play for high-performance applications that need low latency and guaranteed performance levels. On the other hand in a world where people are trying to squeeze out every ounce of an IT budget, many are turning to the cloud for storage where it is appropriate. When compared to NAS and especially SAN, object storage provides a latency-tolerant access pattern to a data set. For some applications, this is tolerable and provides customers the ability to geographically separate the physical storage from the end user. Think about archive and backup as key use models where object storage is growing rapidly and people are more willing to move data off-premise.

This area is changing rapidly as companies struggle to find a better way to deal with explosive growth in unstructured content. Recent directions include the emergence of cloud gateway and on-ramp solutions to bridge on-premise storage to cloud storage and enable non-object based applications to access data stored in the object pool using traditional iSCSI or NAS out the front.

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About the Author

Brad Parks - Converged Infrastructure Strategist, HP Storage
Twitter - @HPBradParks

Brad Parks is a strategist in HP Enterprise Servers, Storage and Networking, focusing on product and solution development for HP Converged Infrastructure as it relates to HP Storage. Parks works with customers, product teams and the technical community to develop content and programs to communicate HP’s strategic direction and unique customer value related to data storage.