Can I use my current applications -- Exchange, SQL Server, SharePoint, Office, etc. -- with object storage systems?...
If not, what do I need to do to make these file-based applications work with an object storage system?
At this point, there are no direct interfaces to object storage from these applications, but that doesn't mean you can't get to object storage systems from file-based applications. For example, many object storage systems offer an NFS or CIFS gateway, and some can provide an iSCSI-to-object-storage gateway.
All the applications mentioned can store millions to billions of files. While Office creates the files directly on storage, SQL Server, SharePoint and Exchange store their files within a database component called a "binary large object" or BLOB. There are many third-party applications that can extract the data from these BLOBs and store it on traditional file storage. But to store this data on object storage, you must use one of the gateway products mentioned above.
A broader question is why you would want to do this. The first reason to implement an object storage back end to applications such as Exchange, SQL Server and Office is to leverage object storage's ability to support an almost unlimited number of files. In addition, most object storage systems have advanced data protection and data integrity verification techniques.
Unfortunately, until direct support is available from within the applications themselves, these gateway solutions can't take advantage of another important aspect of object storage -- providing advanced metadata about the objects stored. A benefit of this, for example, is that retention times and modification policies could all be managed through object storage's metadata.
Until direct support is available, setting up and managing one of these gateway services is relatively easy. With them, connecting Microsoft BackOffice applications to object storage can bring advanced data management capabilities to the environment.
About the expert
George Crump is a longtime contributor to TechTarget, as well as president and founder of Storage Switzerland LLC, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments.
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