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Combining file protocols with object stores
File and object aren't necessarily mutually exclusive ideas even within the same system. In fact, several existing scale-out NAS systems already have object stores underlying a file interface, including BlueArc Corp.'s Titan, Panasas Inc.'s ActiveStore and ParaScale Inc.'s Hyper-scale Storage Cloud.
"Objects are kind of an overloaded term," said Brent Welch, Panasas' director of software architecture. "Different people define it differently, but it's essentially a container for data that serves as a building block for higher-level storage systems." The Panasas distributed file system knits together NFS with an underlying object store to meet the scalability demands of high-performance computing.
Systems like CAStor and Atmos essentially peel back the network protocol layer and let the application interface directly with the object store. Some products, like BlueArc's Titan, also allow administrators to search using more detailed object-based metadata schemes, though end users in the environment access the system through NFS.
James Rainey, BlueArc's executive director of strategic technology, said BlueArc has allowed some partners to integrate applications directly into the object store using a proprietary API, and they're considering opening up that API for more general use.
Some enterprise users are looking to ease object-based systems for archival data into their environments
|Peaceful coexistence: Object meets file|
"We have a lot of legacy stuff -- we want to use objects for scalability of medical image archives long term, but we're not a Web 2.0 company that can start fresh with a database and objects. Meanwhile, almost any computer system on the planet can connect through CIFS and NFS," said Michael Passe, storage architect at Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Passe is working with EMC Corp. engineers to get file access into Atmos. "They're helping us push forward the file protocol side, but there's significant work to do with Samba to connect to Windows systems via CIFS," he said.
While managing objects will become a necessity down the road, Passe said Atmos' commodity hardware and scale-out architecture has appeal right now. "We went from Centera, at $8 per raw gigabyte of data, to Atmos, at less than a dollar per raw gigabyte," he said. "Even if it makes four copies for data protection, it's still only $2.80 per raw GB."
Connecting Windows systems via CIFS and Samba to an object-based system is fairly esoteric. However, Brent Welch, Panasas Inc.'s director of software architecture, said that Version 4.1 of the NFS standard will include support for connecting via the pNFS client to file, block or object-based storage systems, potentially easing integration of object-based storage into enterprise environments with legacy data like Passe's.
Despite the efforts to meld object and file systems, StorageMojo's Harris predicts the debate over files and objects will continue. "There has been a low-level religious war going on for quite some time," he said. "File systems have been a key technology for decades, but we're rapidly reaching the point … where it doesn't make sense to tie data to a specific disk drive attached to a specific path name anymore."
BIO: Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchStorage.com.
This was first published in December 2009