In IT, object storage (often known as object-based storage) is a form of data-storage architecture. It was developed as a robust way of storing and managing large quantities of unstructured data. Here is a quick guide to what you need to know about object storage in IT and how it compares to traditional hierarchical systems.
Object storage treats storage as flat address space. This essentially means that the available storage is treated as one large container. Objects within the container are identified by a unique object ID. This is generated using a specialized algorithm. They may also contain metadata, user data, and/or other attributes.
Traditional hierarchical file structures work in much the same way as physical addressing systems. Each object within a container is assigned a block address. When it is required, it will be retrieved from its known location.
To find this location, the system will work its way from the largest known variable down to the smallest. This is effectively the same process as real-world delivery services use to pick up and/or deliver goods. First, they find the country. Then they find the state/region within that country. Then they find the city and so on down to the exact address.
Object storage is preferred to hierarchical storage for applications that process large volumes of data. It’s also preferred for applications that need to deal with unstructured data. Object storage is therefore arguably the only choice for applications that handle large volumes of unstructured data.
This means that object storage is the approach of choice for applications such as big data analytics, content distribution and cloud storage, backup and archiving. It is also the preferred option for storing and processing audio files, images and videos.
For clarity, hierarchical storage very definitely still has its uses. If the priority is to make the absolute best use of storage resources, it is likely to be the best option. These days, however, both online (cloud/network) and offline storage are fairly affordable. This means that developers tend to prioritize the benefits that object storage can offer.
Scalability is probably one of the most important considerations in modern IT. Object storage is much more scalable than hierarchical storage. The fact that each object has its own unique identifier means that it can be retrieved from anywhere in the system.
This in turn means that storage can be seamlessly expanded as the quantity of data grows. Likewise, if the quantity of data shrinks, it can be seamlessly reduced again.
Object storage is therefore often the preferred option for cloud storage and applications. It’s particularly useful for “burstable” ones. By their very nature, these sorts of applications swing between high and low usage. This means they need highly scalable storage architecture.
Versatility is also hugely important to modern IT. As the sector has matured, developers (and their employers) have become increasingly aware of the dangers of lock-in.
There is hence a lot of emphasis on creating solutions that can be easily ported from one environment to another. Even if they cannot simply be lifted and shifted into place, they should be easily adaptable.
Again, object storage delivers capably here. The main reason for this is that it can be accessed using a variety of different protocols. In particular, it works effectively with both the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and the Representational State Transfer (REST) protocol. This means that it can work with a wide range of applications and services.
The fact that object storage works with so many different protocols means that it can usually be easily integrated into existing IT environments. This can be a huge selling point for businesses that need to update legacy applications and services. In particular, it can make it easier to upgrade one application or service at a time without disrupting others.
On the flip side, using object storage also offers a high level of future-proofing. Businesses can develop their environment(s), applications, and/or services as they see fit. Object storage will almost definitely continue to be a viable option for them.
Object storage is highly resistant to data loss and downtime. Furthermore, object storage systems are often designed to have automatic data replication and erasure coding. This makes them even more durable. The robustness of object storage often makes it the preferred option for business-critical applications and backups.
Looked at overall, object storage is, quite simply, often the most cost-effective option. This is partly due to the ease and speed with which it can be scaled. It’s also partly due to the fact that it can usually be run on standard commodity hardware. This is generally a lot less expensive than specialized storage systems.
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