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What are some considerations around cloud object storage performance?

Object storage in the cloud may be attractive because of its low cost, but you might want to reconsider if you need top-tier performance.

Cloud object storage has a typical cost of between 2 cents and 3 cents per gigabyte, per month, while cloud block...

or file storage can be up to 30 times more expensive. That's a very big cost differential, making it easy to see why so many users want to use object storage rather than block and file in the cloud.

But as is so often pointed out, there is no free lunch. One reason object storage in the cloud is so inexpensive is that its performance is not designed for primary applications, especially structured applications (those using a database). Cloud object storage performance is typically below the threshold most users will find acceptable for their applications.

In addition, cloud object storage is eventually consistent rather than immediately consistent as it is with cloud block or file storage (the one exception is Joyent Manta cloud object storage). The upshot of eventual consistency is that it's possible for an older version of data to be read and altered before it is updated by the object storage.

This means cloud object storage is generally best suited for secondary or nearline applications such as active archives, backup, eDiscovery, data replicas, backups and restores. That doesn't mean it can't be used for primary applications -- it just means user expectations need to be set properly. And, like all generalizations, there are exceptions.

Many Internet service providers offer free email to compete with Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo Mail. They do this because they know the subscriber retention rate is four times higher when the subscriber uses their domain email address. But the servers and storage for this service is a cost center. Some commercial object storage software suppliers (Scality, Amplidata and Quantum) have tuned their software so it can provide SAN storage-like performance for email and other cloud applications at a fraction of the cost.

Before selecting a cloud service provider's object storage, ensure your cloud application is compatible with their object storage and then test it under load to see if the performance is acceptable.

Next Steps

A comparison of object and block storage for the cloud

The advantages of using object storage as an alternative to scale-out

This was last published in June 2015

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