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Will object replace file?

I keep hearing this question, and I keep responding “not anytime soon,” rather than with a flat “no.” I can understand why some may consider replacing file storage with object storage given developments that are occurring, but file storage still has plenty of life.

Object storage has several substantial benefits over file storage when it comes to solving a couple of problems:

• Scale – The continuing growth in unstructured data means large capacity and much greater numbers of “objects,” usually files that must be stored and managed. Traditional file systems usually cannot handle the billions of objects in their hierarchical file structure effectively. Object storage uses a flat address space with access through an object ID, which may be maintained external to the storage system or as an integral element in a distributed environment.

• Durability – Information must be available, potentially from different geographies and needs a protection process that does not impact operational environments. Also, information has a long life that usually outlasts the devices it is stored on. Object storage systems, for the most part, have addressed these issues by geographically dispersing data so only a specific number of object elements must be available to access the information. The selectable protection also includes immutability of the objects with versioning so an object incorrectly altered is still recoverable from a prior version. Organizations can manage technology transitions with object storage by introducing a new node/location for storage of an object element, replacing one that is to be retired and automatically redistribute object elements.

Here are ways that object storage is being used:

• Web-based storage is typically implemented with object storage using a simple GET/PUT access method. The most common in usage is some form of the Amazon S3 protocol, now simply referred to as S3 or S3-like.

• On-premise object storage systems, often called private clouds, are being promoted by vendors to give companies the web-based capabilities of self-service and massive scalability for those that have reasons for not using public cloud-based systems. These are usually object storage systems with similar access protocols such as S3.

• Some applications are being modified to write to object storage directly and new applications are being developed with cloud-based access (public or private) as the fundamental design and use of the extended metadata. The most commonly modified applications are backup and archiving software. These applications represent some of the first uses of cloud-based storage.

Gateway devices that bridge file access to object storage in clouds are available. These systems allow use of cloud storage from existing applications without modification while adding features such as metadata tagging and file caching.

So why do I say object will not replace file storage anytime soon? Because changes in applications occur slowly, if at all. There will be resistance to making a transition from files to objects. Not only is there a predominance of file-based applications, there is also widespread familiarity with using files and file structures. The current use of files has been effective for most environments and change will be embraced only when it is necessary.

Object storage is most likely to solve problems in backup, archive and large content repositories, and those problems are already being solved by current technology. But while object will not replace file usage today, it does deal with the problems of scale and durability, and opens new opportunities for storage in the future.

(Randy Kerns is Senior Strategist at Evaluator Group, an IT analyst firm).

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