This content is part of the Essential Guide: Unstructured data storage showdown: Object storage vs. scale-out NAS

Object storage vs. NAS: Which should you choose?

While the choice between object storage offerings and NAS systems used to be pretty clear, innovations in the storage user interface are blurring the lines.

As data storage needs increase, network-attached storage users have to decide whether to stay with a scale-out NAS system or to convert to object storage. If the question of object storage vs. NAS had been raised even a couple of years ago, the response would have been something like this: "I'm used to NAS, but I just need scale. Object storage has a peculiar REST interface, which means app rewrites and, anyway, it's much slower. I'm staying with NAS."

Today, the answer has changed. NAS has extended to allow scale-out features and can potentially be built into petabyte installations. This overcomes capacity issues, but in the data integrity area, spreading file chunks over multiple appliances in the way that object storage does is still evolving.

Object storage has moved on from the days of being just a slow, archiving bulk storage method to join the fast and furious crew. Support for solid-state drives is now standard, and Ceph -- the de facto standard software for object storage systems -- has been retuned for speed, while vendors such as DDN offer fast options. The performance issue is going away, leading to fewer differences in the game of object storage vs. NAS.

Even the REST interface is giving way to a more comprehensive approach -- universal storage -- where the object store is front-ended to present as NAS with NFS and CIFS/SMB interfaces. This makes object storage a strong alternative to NAS, even where NAS is used for primary network storage.

If NAS is achieved by superimposing a local network file system on the object storage, the underlying files essentially become objects and can be deduplicated and compressed across the global file space. Given the sprawl seen in most NAS systems, this should be a major space saver with bonuses such as fast load times and much lower network traffic.

NAS vendors, of course, will respond to these features with similar functionality, but universal storage is inherently scalable and has years of stabilization. The object storage vs. NAS decision is becoming more difficult, and issues such as open source economics and vendor comfort will be significant factors. Caringo and Scality are strong players in the object space and may be a better match for some because of their support and depth of features.

The bottom line is that users need to be informed about object technology options before they can even contemplate the object storage vs. NAS issue. In the next half-decade, we can expect full convergence between NAS and object storage. Apart from the interface, they do very similar jobs, and the interface issue is being addressed.

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