Understanding Cloud Object Storage and How to Use it
Modern companies generate large amounts of data, which need to be stored somewhere. Unstructured data dominates the vast amount of stored data. Object storage is the answer for the massive growth of unstructured data that most organizations are experiencing.
This article covers what practical advantages can object storage systems provide to the business, what kind of challenges they are created for, and how they differ from file and block data storage systems (DSS)?
What is object storage
According to a survey conducted by 451 Research in 2017, more than 60% of organizations said their storage capacity exceeded 50 Petabytes. Traditional systems (block and file) are simply not designed for this rate of data growth that needs to be reliably stored and protected.
In object storages, data of different formats and sizes is stored as objects with metadata. Each object has a unique identifier, through which applications find and access data. The distinctive feature is that the data is stored in a so-called flat environment or, in other words, on the same level, i.e. without using a directory tree. It is suitable for storing and managing large amounts of data (audio and video files, documents, chat messages, letters), and is used when a traditional system with multiple files and folders becomes inconvenient and inefficient.
It is necessary to note that object storages are not intended for data processing inside of them, as here the operation of placing or receiving objects can be executed. What is important to understand is that not the users themselves but applications or separate systems interact with such storages, and the basis of API is the HTTP protocol.
Companies can deploy the onsite system in their own data center or rely on cloud service providers. Object storage interacts with applications through a software interface. Although this technology has been developing for more than 20 years, there’s still no one universally accepted interface standard. The most popular ones are the following:
- S3 API. This interface belongs to cloud provider Amazon. It is currently the most commonly used.
- Swift API. OpenStack owns this interface. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing cloud services technologies.
- CDMI, developed by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).
Use cases for object storage
Some of the most common users include design and development companies, game portals, publishers and news agencies, organizations that provide media content to a wide audience, marketplaces, social networks, educational institutions and many others that generate large amounts of data.
Websites development. S3 API allows access to files via HTTP(S). This means that if you upload a page of your site in the storage as an HTML file, users will be able to access it (e.g. by URL). Therefore, it is possible to store static pages of the site, which are rarely updated. You just need to upload page files to the object repository and set up access to them.
Using cloud saves disk space on the server, hosting the site, and reduces infrastructure maintenance costs: you do not need to buy and maintain your own servers for storing data. In addition, you can upload almost infinite amounts of information to cloud.
Multimedia files. In social networks, S3 Cloud Storage helps to provide access to content for millions of users simultaneously. Mass media companies can store archives of publications, video and photo materials, TV programs. It is ideal for storing images, video, audio, graphics. Not only ready-made files and materials need to be stored, but also their original sources and many versions, parts, frames, etc. For example, in music production, studios store a huge array of sources and parts of recorded songs, and to edit a film requires storage of several times more video materials than the film itself.
Inbound files of large size. Examples of large file sizes are video from surveillance systems or telephone conversations recordings in call centers. As a rule, such objects are rarely accessed. The object storage can be a convenient and inexpensive place for such data, providing quick access to it if necessary.
Backup and disaster recovery. This type of DSS is the best option for storing backups of important data. You can set up an automatic backup interval (once a day, week or month) and your data in the cloud will be updated at a specified interval. If major applications fail or accidentally delete information, you can easily restore it from the cloud.
Object storages can be used to back up entire infrastructures. This allows you to use disaster recovery mechanisms and quickly restore services in the event of failures and disasters without downtime or data loss.
Big data. Banks and insurance companies can store insurance and credit information for fraud detection and risk analysis; retailers –customer and transaction data for customer demand analysis, revenue and assortment forecasting, customer segmentation. Healthcare institutions can store the results of medical analyses, tests, laboratory researches, which must be kept because of legal requirements.
The article gives only a few examples of object storage usage, but this is not the full list. The field of their application is rather extensive as the need for reliable systems for storing files and data arises quite often, and at the same time, unlike some other methods, this type is remarkable for the fact that it accommodates almost any data set as well as provides the organization with effective, convenient and quick search.
Moreover, such a solution is highly scalable and cost-effective. To keep the growing amount of information locally, you need additional costs for infrastructure setup and maintenance, time to purchase equipment and configure it. With S3 storage, you have as much available space as you need, without having to monitor the capacity available, as the amount of free disk space is the responsibility of the cloud provider. As for the cost of the service, with Cloud4Y service provider, you pay for the capacity you use and for outgoing traffic.
However, it is important to remember that for some operations, for example, work with transactional workloads, the efficiency of the solution is less than that of block storages. In addition, its integration may require changes in application logic and workflows.
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