When it comes to managing unstructured data the data center has problems. The legacy network attached storage (NAS) systems that it uses to store this data are no longer keeping pace with the demands of the modern data center. As a result, IT planners are considering object storage as a potential replacement for their aging NAS infrastructures. Our “NAS vs. Object” series will perform a detailed examination of these technologies to help IT planners decide which technology is right for their data centers.
Where Legacy NAS Falls Short
Unstructured data puts stress on a NAS system in several ways. First, while many NAS systems can scale large, the cost to achieve that scale is very expensive. Second, while they can scale, traditional NAS systems often become complex as they scale. Third, they generally use RAID5/6 for data protection. Because of the size of the data set, IT planners want to use larger hard disks like 6-10TBs, which require longer RAID rebuilds. Finally, users don’t sit in one facility any more, data needs to be dispersed across an organization’s locations and into the cloud.
Object storage responds well to each of these stress points as we will explain throughout this series. But first it makes sense to understand exactly what object storage is.
What Is Object Storage?
Most unstructured data is stored in a POSIX (Portable Operating System Interface) file system. It is a means of organizing the way data is written to a storage system. A series of volumes, directories (also known as folders) and sub-directories is organized within the file system data. The data POSIX stores is basic, including information like date created, date changed, hierarchy, and archive status. It is also called data about data, or metadata.
Object storage is also a technology that organizes the way data is written to a storage system. In it, data is written into self-contained entities called objects. For simplicity think of an object as a file. Unlike a POSIX file system, an object storage system gives each object a unique ID, which is managed in a flat index. There are no folders and subfolders. When a user or application needs access to a file, the user or application provides the object storage system with the unique ID. This flat index provides greater scalability, enabling an object storage system to support faster access to a massively higher quantity of objects or files as compared to most POSIX based NAS counterparts.
The flat organizational structure also enables object storage to provide a much richer metadata component for the object. Most object storage systems, in addition to date created and date modified information, can store expiration dates, object protection requirements as well as descriptive tagging about the objects they store.
Lastly, it is possible to protect objects at the object level. POSIX file systems conversely need to protect data at a volume level. An object storage system, armed with the more granular protection layer, can protect data better on less expensive hardware and more importantly recover quicker.
Object Storage: The File Server for The Modern Enterprise
There is a tremendous change in unstructured data. It is no longer just user files. It now includes millions, if not billions, of machine generated files and logs. The data center needs to continue to provide users the file sharing capabilities they require, as well as support the unprecedented growth of data generated by machines. Object storage, as we will explain in this series, may very well be the heir apparent to NAS.
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