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Object storage isn't a new concept in the NAS world, but some new products are bypassing traditional file system interfaces as industry debate emerges about the best way to cope with unstructured data.
In the age of Web 2.0, the cloud and the digital content explosion, enterprise data storage managers are reevaluating how they store unstructured data as vendors roll out new
Unstructured data is expected to far outpace the growth of structured data over the next three years. According to the "IDC Enterprise Disk Storage Consumption Model" report released last fall, while transactional data is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21.8%, it's far outpaced by a 61.7% CAGR predicted for unstructured data.
"There are going to be extreme amounts of data as things like digital video and mobile networks grow; in five years, pretty much every phone will be 'smart,'" said Robin Harris, senior analyst at StorageMojo. "All of us storage geeks agree on that, and different people are beginning to visualize what that kind of growth needs in terms of storage infrastructure."
Think APIs, not files
Traditional hierarchical file systems organize data into "trees" consisting of directories, folders, subfolders and files. Files are a logical representation of blocks of data associated with an application and are the most familiar means of working with data. Network file system interfaces like NFS and CIFS are well-understood, standardized methods of conveying the logical groups of blocks from a storage repository to an application.
A problem arises, however, when a traditional file system, which has a theoretically limited number of files it can address in a single directory and tracks only simple metadata, runs into massive repositories of similar files.
"File systems make less sense over time as the amount of data grows," StorageMojo's Harris said. "Architecturally, it makes more sense for each file to have a unique 128-bit ID and use an Internet-like system for locating that file; a URL points to an address and there are files at that address, and object-based storage interfaces are essentially operating on the same principle."
With an object ID replacing a file name, more extensive data can accompany an object than the simple "created," "modified" or "saved on" fields available in traditional file systems. Thus, detailed policies can be applied to objects for more efficient and automated management.
Without NFS or CIFS to serve up files to applications, object-based storage systems need to replace that layer of abstraction between raw blocks of data on disk and files that applications can recognize. Today's object-based systems use standard APIs such as Representational State Transfer (REST) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), or proprietary APIs to tell applications how to store and retrieve object IDs.
This was first published in December 2009