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Object storage systems go beyond the cloud

Advances to object technology and accelerating growth of unstructured data make object storage valuable for on-premises data, despite their start as a cloud play.

Object storage has been popular for the cloud, but rapidly growing amounts of unstructured data are causing storage pros to examine other uses for object technology. It is also causing vendors to work on their products to meet that demand.

Object storage systems came into vogue once Amazon and Facebook began using them to store massive amounts of data. Instead of LUNs and volumes, object storage places data into containers of varying sizes that are accessed by Web-based protocols. Those objects can then be attained anywhere regardless of where they are stored. This made object technology an obvious choice for the cloud.

But object storage also allows an administrator to add custom metadata to manage it on a per-object basis. That granular management, scalability and low cost makes it a good fit for environments with a large amount of unstructured data, regardless of whether the cloud is being used.

"If you look at object [storage] for traditional environments, there's tremendous growth in capacity demand. [Approximately] 80% is unstructured. Does all of that need to be on primary storage -- the fastest and most expensive? The answer is no," said Randy Kerns, a senior analyst at Evaluator Group.

Kerns said that's why object storage systems are increasingly being used outside the cloud, in what he calls Tier 2 types of implementations. Object storage systems can be used as an inexpensive way to lessen the demand on primary storage arrays.

"What we're seeing is traditional storage inside IT. They're using it in the context of secondary storage or an active archive. And it's not just that it's less expensive -- it changes everything about management and availability," Kerns said.

According to a 2013 IDC MarketScape report, object technology accounted for 37% of the revenue generated from the file- and object-based storage market. IDC predicted the file and object market will grow by 24.5% annually until 2017.

To capitalize on that demand, both object and traditional array vendors are adapting their technology.

"There are a number [of vendors] that have developed object storage platforms and added file-system capabilities, and they've added that to expand from specific use cases. Then, you see a lot of the high-performance NAS systems, like Isilon, add in the capability for objects to be stored as well. So, vendors are addressing it from both directions, making their products more flexible," Kerns said.

EMC allows objects to be accessed through its Isilon scale-out NAS platform, while using its ViPR software-defined storage.

Non-traditional NAS vendors also see object success

Non-traditional NAS vendors that primarily provide object storage appliances have been seeing success as well.

One such vendor, Exablox, launched its OneBlox scale-out file-system appliance in April 2013. Exablox markets its product to midmarket companies for general-purpose applications.

OneBlox features a ring architecture with a global file system -- essentially a data pool -- that users can add nodes to as their environment grows. It is a file-based interface with object technology underneath for storage management.

Exablox CEO Doug Brockett said his customers frequently use cloud file sharing services for some data. However, they use OneBlox on-premises for backups and primary data that require solid performance.

"These guys might be using Box or Dropbox, but not for the applications or the volume of storage we're dealing with," he said.

Scality, another vendor using ring architecture, began shipping its Ring in 2010, but recently added more enterprise storage features, such as erasure coding and auto-tiering.

DataDirect Networks this year added global erasure coding across sites and, to broaden appeal, currently offers an archive node to its Web Object Scaler 360 platform.

"All of them continue to innovate and add capabilities," Kerns said of object storage vendors. "It's a very competitive area because it's gaining a lot of momentum in value -- a lot of clients have a lot of data analytics they have to store, and [object] seems to be a great answer for that."

Senior news director Dave Raffo contributed to this story.

Next Steps

Can object storage be used in place of a traditional array?

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Have you considered object technology for a non-cloud environment?
Well, there will only be two types of storage going forward...flash and object. All of the "hot" data will reside in flash arrays and all of the "warmer" and "cold" data will be in object storage. This is going to be the great simplification of data storage and management.