Do SMB Data Centers Need Object Storage?

Los Angeles – Storage Switzerland is at the Next Generation Storage Summit (NGSS) this week and yesterday we wrapped up our focus on Object Storage. One of the questions coming out of the summit is how do you know if your data center is right for object storage? The focus tends to be on how much data or how many files do you have? Often the conclusion is that this is a big data center technology. That is generally an accurate assessment but SMB data centers can greatly benefit from object storage and certainly should not immediately disqualify a product that leverages the technology.

Problem Solvers

No matter the size of the organization, IT professionals have a list of problems to solve on any given day. The list is prioritized typically by users and IT faithfully attempts to eliminate or reduce the impact of those problems. The SMB data center may have different problems to solve than the enterprise but they certainly have to address them. When we talk to SMB data center customers, we find that the top three issues are typically:

  1. Dealing with new storage performance problems caused by virtualization
  2. Dealing with the seemingly never solved data protection challenge
  3. Dealing with the ever increasing growth in unstructured data

The first item will be the topic of the rest of the week’s sessions at NGSS as we focus on solid state disk technologies. The second item is the subject of a workshop I am doing with Storage Decisions, “A Toolkit for Comprehensive Data Protection“. In fact, I will be back in the Los Angeles area next week to deliver that workshop for the area. In our latest white board video I chalk talk through one of the data protection topics I cover at the event. The third and final item, dealing with unstructured data growth, was the topic of the first two days of the Next Generation Storage Summit.

SMB Data Center vs. Unstructured Data

There is no question that the SMB data center and the enterprise are having similar problems dealing with unstructured data. The capacity and file count requirements may not be as high in the SMB Data Center but their budgets and methods for dealing with unstructured data are more limited. Moreover, they probably don’t have the IT personnel with the skills to customize their applications for object storage, nor do they typically have the capacity requirements to justify even a “starter” object storage cluster. This does not mean, however, that they can’t benefit from object storage.

Object Inside

There are other attributes that object storage brings to a data center beyond being able to manage lots of files and lots of capacity. Object storage typically has better and more advanced data protection capabilities than legacy storage systems equipped with RAID. My colleague, Eric Slack has covered that extensively.

Object storage systems also tend to handle scaling and migration better than legacy storage systems. Systems built on an object storage foundation can leverage that architecture to deliver other features like deduplication and compression. Certainly none of these features are inherently unique to an object storage architecture, but they may be easier for the vendor to implement and deliver to a customer, which could mean a more reliable and cost effective storage solution.

The SMB data center could benefit from a storage system that can use object storage even if it is hidden from the administrators and users most of the time. To that end, object storage systems should provide, at least optionally, a front end that is more familiar. They should be able to interact with it as if it were a traditional NAS or even an iSCSI mount. Providing this type of presentation would allow an object storage system to be seamlessly integrated into the data center while benefitting from all the capabilities inherent with object storage.

Object Knowledge

The other question that comes up during these discussions is does or should the IT professional care that object storage is behind the scenes helping them solve these challenges? The conventional wisdom seems to be that you shouldn’t care. This is something I strongly disagree with. You should care and you should have a reasonable understanding as to what object storage is and why it is better. You may never interface with the object storage layer directly but knowing how it works and why it works will give you more confidence in the systems you are selecting.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to founding Storage Switzerland he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators where he was in charge of technology testing, integration and product selection.

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