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Analyzing products from the leading object storage vendors

When evaluating the leading object-based storage systems, it is important to consider which product can best support your uses cases and unique site requirements.

As a quickly growing segment of the data storage market, object storage systems have emerged as organizations face...

new storage challenges that can't be solved with traditional block- and file-based storage systems. Because object storage systems are so different from their block and file counterparts, it is important to carefully analyze the available products to ensure you find one that meets the needs and goals of your organization.

Before determining which object storage system to choose, bear in mind that object storage is unlikely to supplant your existing block and file system. Rather, you will generally be augmenting your block and file storage environment with object storage.

An object architecture often does not lend itself to supporting mainstream application workloads. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, but is general guidance. If you are considering a wholesale replacement of your block and file storage system with an object-based one, tread carefully, and make sure you fully understand the performance characteristics of object storage.

Here, we will examine products from the leading object storage vendors: Caringo Inc., DataDirect Networks (DDN) Inc., Dell EMC, Hitachi Data Systems Corp., IBM and Scality Inc. TechTarget editors selected these vendors after doing extensive research into the top market shareholders and determining which products best fit the presented buying criteria. 

Access methods

Every organization has different storage needs, and object storage is no exception. These different demands and use cases require object storage platforms that can support the unique requirements imposed. For example, if you intend to deploy an object storage platform to support your internal file-sharing needs, you are in luck; at least, to a point. All of the object storage vendors examined here support server message block (SMB)/Common Internet File System (CIFS) and Network File System (NFS).

But the devil is in the details. Some products have these file-sharing protocols built in natively, while others require the use of a gateway device. Although some users think that gateway devices add complexity, other users prefer them because they feel that not natively including protocols that are not used by everyone improves the security of the product.

Caringo, Hitachi Data Systems and Scality all provide native CIFS/SMB and NFS support. If your primary object storage use case is file sharing, these are solid products you may wish to consider.

Other object storage vendors support SMB and NFS, but only via add-on products or licenses. For example, Dell EMC Elastic Cloud Storage (ECS) requires a gateway or front end to enable traditional file-based protocol access. IBM Cloud Object Storage supports native NFS and requires a third-party add-on for CIFS/SMB access, but native CIFS support is on the roadmap for late 2017.

A lack of native NFS or CIFS/SMB support does not make these products noncontenders for file sharing, but if that is your primary goal, you may wish to consider products that have native file protocol support.

In addition, although the DDN WOS product supports NFS and CIFS/SMB (with the addition of the company's WOS Access product), DDN maintains that WOS is not a NAS replacement for primary storage workloads.

File sharing is just one object storage use case, though. There are many others, including analytics and secondary storage.

Object storage systems can all do a reasonable job at storing vast quantities of unstructured data, but some have unique capabilities. For example, the HDS Hitachi Content Platform (HCP) supports journaling email directly from Microsoft Exchange via HCP's Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. Hitachi Data Instance Director is tightly integrated with HCP and provides advanced email archiving capabilities for Microsoft Exchange environments. However, this unique capability does not span all of the products.

On the flip side, Dell EMC's ECS, while able to support a massive breadth of object storage needs, is not a good fit for database storage. Any application that requires low latency and high I/O, such as digital simulation, would not be a good fit for object storage due to its higher access latency.

Public cloud integration

File protocols are important, but the ability to integrate with public clouds may be even more important for some IT organizations.

The desire to cloudify workload operating environments via hybrid cloud grows every day. In many ways, while object storage has been around for a while, it was really reborn in the cloud, with services such as Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) relying on object storage for storage services.

There are several approaches to public cloud integration. Some products, such as Caringo Swarm, integrate with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure and leverage those services' storage environments. Other products, such as DDN, can use cloud as a storage tier and move archival or cold data to such locations.

HDS is similar to Caringo and DDN, but takes things a bit further. HDS HCP's adaptive cloud tiering technology gives HCP access nodes to leverage storage from third-party sources to construct storage pools. These can be off-site public cloud storage sources, such as Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Storage or Verizon Cloud. Via this integration, HDS enables you to easily scale HCP storage capacity up or down as needed. Elastic capacity enables you to make room on premises for a sudden capacity need by encrypting and tiering older objects off to a third-party cloud.

Other vendors, such as Dell Technologies, offer an ecosystem of brands. Dell EMC ECS can be deployed through public cloud services via tools from Virtustream Inc., but the product also offers hybrid cloud flexibility with ECS Dedicated Cloud (DC) service. ECS DC is on-demand ECS managed by Dell EMC that runs on dedicated, single-tenant servers hosted in a Virtustream data center. It is available in hybrid and fully hosted multisite configurations.

IBM also offers a cloud service. IBM Cloud Object Storage (COS) integrates with the cloud, utilizing a flexible hybrid approach where a single product can be located on-premises or in a Bluemix private cloud. This hybrid approach provides customers with a private on-premises option, but leverages resources on the cloud. Customers can start on premises and migrate to the cloud, or start in the cloud and migrate to on premises, knowing that the technology advantages of IBM COS or API interfaces are the same and do not change.

Until recently, Scality was a little behind the other object storage vendors in its ability to use public cloud services, but this was addressed with a couple of significant updates. The S3 API was extended to enable bucket location control in release 7.0 in April 2017. This enables S3 buckets and their objects to be stored in different Scality RINGs, a capability that was added in June 2017 to enable the storage of buckets in locations, including specific public cloud regions, such as in AWS S3 US-East, Microsoft Azure and other clouds.

Software vs. appliance

It used to be that when you wanted storage, you called your favorite storage vendor, gave it a bunch of money, and then waited for days, weeks or even months for the hardware appliances to arrive.

Today, while that appliance-based deployment is still around, it has been supplemented by a software-only option that enables customers to simply download storage software from a vendor and deploy it on existing hardware to create an instant object storage cluster.

It used to be that when you wanted storage, you called your favorite storage vendor, gave it a bunch of money, and then waited for days, weeks or even months for the hardware appliances to arrive.

The decision to deploy a hardware- or software-based option, or a combination of both, is critical. Many IT organizations prefer bundled appliances that they can simply rack and turn on. Others prefer the flexibility of deploying software on hardware that they selected and configured.

All of the object storage systems examined in this article are available as appliances. However, that does not mean that the storage vendor is actually selling that appliance. Software-based storage vendors often have partnerships with hardware manufacturers to bundle software and hardware together, so the customer gets an appliance.

All of the object storage systems discussed in this article are also available as software-only products, so you can bring your own hardware. In some cases, you can deploy the software to a virtual machine for testing.

Data security

If your organization is security-sensitive, encryption at rest is critical. Almost all the leading object storage vendors addressed here support encryption at rest to varying degrees.

IBM COS and HDS HCP provide out-of-the-box at rest encryption. Caringo Swarm and Scality RING enable encryption at rest through the toggling of an administrative setting with various levels of configurability. There is no need to buy more features or licenses.

Some object storage systems do not include any native data at rest encryption protection and require additional licenses to enable this capability. That is the case with Dell ECS. DDN does not support encryption.

These are important items you must consider as you determine which object storage system works best for your organization. While there is some generality in object storage -- for example, all the products do a serviceable job at storing general unstructured data, such as video and archival information -- as you dig a bit deeper, you can see that each product has specific strengths and weaknesses when it comes to outlier use cases.

Next Steps

Four use cases for implementing object storage

What you need to know before you evaluate object storage systems

Three reasons why an object storage system could be a viable option for Hadoop analytics 

This was last published in July 2017

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