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Different products for different use cases
Another viewpoint maintains that file vs. object doesn't have to be an either-or proposition. NetApp and EMC, for example, have both expressed this point of view.
"If there are limits to traditional file systems, we're not running into them today," said Peter Thayer, director of marketing, midrange products at EMC. "It's more a matter of application-centric use cases in Web 2.0 requiring additional metadata than running out of gas in the traditional file system space today."
John Hayden, EMC's CTO of NAS engineering, added that if users require shared read/write access to the same files, "you'll get more horsepower out of traditional file systems today in terms of performance."
NetApp's Bercovici echoed that outlook. NetApp continues to roll out file system-based products, most recently its Ontap 8 operating system, which will support scale-out. However, "if you need to support millions, hundreds of millions or billions of similar objects, like medical images, storage interfaces are just overhead," he said. "You don't want to create LUNs, folders and permissions; you just want a single scalable directory."
Some users find a combination of products works best for different needs within the same environment. At the Johns Hopkins University Bayview Research Campus Center for Inherited Disease Research, data processing for genetic research processing is done using clients attached
"Isilon provides a large shared file system to support desktop data analysis for the computers that drive instruments in our lab," said Lee Watkins Jr., the center's director of bioinformatics. It's important to have file-locking capabilities and the ability to manage permissions across both Windows and Linux OSes in this environment, though Watkins said this can often carry management headaches. "We have very large files people need access to from Linux, Mac OS X and Windows desktops, some reading, some writing, and we have to decide how to balance throughput to the different [Isilon] nodes -- which file system is going to mount to each node," he said.
Once data passes into the archive stage, Watkins said it's more important to be able to access the data and metadata quickly when it's needed. "We also produce a tremendous amount of data. It can be between a terabyte and 3 TB per day," he said. For Johns Hopkins, writing an application to access the Caringo storage through an API "was pretty simple," according to Watkins. "We can move files around on the back end and not worry about addressing and where it is, and it doesn't matter what operating system is requesting the file."
This was first published in December 2009