Six factors to consider when choosing object-based storage for your data-driven enterprise

It’s Time for a Modern Data Storage Solution  

The proliferation of data continues to fuel the move to cloud and object-based storage (OBS). Enterprises need to modernize their storage to keep pace with the growth of data that IDC predicts will reach 40 ZB by 2020—80 percent of which is estimated to be unstructured. This massive amount of data needs to be stored and accessible for diverse needs across the enterprise, from retrieval of relevant prior radiologic images for patient care to content distribution for entertainment, and across the span of web, cloud and Internet of Things (IoT). And all this has to be accomplished while keeping costs in check.

Traditional storage simply can’t meet performance, management, availability, longer lifecycle expectations and cost constraints at that scale. Object-based storage provides the answer, helping enterprises break free of the limitations imposed by traditional block and file storage systems.    

However, making the decision to move to object-based storage is only the beginning. How do you choose the right storage solution for your organizational needs? How do you choose the solution that allows you to integrate the many different kinds of data your organization uses, and provides a secure, simple-to-manage, highly-flexible and eminently-scalable environment?    

Here are six factors to consider as you look for a cloud-ready solution that’s flexible enough to handle your object and file storage needs. 

 Factor #1: Software-Defined Storage  

Most OBS vendors require you to use proprietary hardware, even if they suggest that’s not the case. When investigating OBS solutions, look for a solution that is totally software-based and installable on your choice of x86-based Linux servers—eliminating the prospect of being locked into a single vendor.    

A peer-to-peer distributed, shared-nothing architecture allows for nodes to be easily added, increasing storage capacity limitlessly without the need for forklift upgrades. It also allows for tiered storage, where less-used data can be archived — usually in the cloud at a lower cost — but still made readily available. 

Factor #2: Complete Cloud Integration  

Cloud is part of enterprise IT strategy today and will be into the future. Public, private and multi-cloud solutions are the norm, and managing resources, utilization and customer satisfaction fall on the “as-a-service” IT departments that must coordinate it all.  To leverage the full power of data, storage needs to be agile; keeping data available to multiple applications across departments, throughout the enterprise and across multiple storage venues; i.e., multiple clouds.  Proprietary formats and gateways reduce agility.     

Object-based storage is ideal because so much of data is unstructured, but it’s critical that you choose an OBS that has the flexibility to meet needs today and into the future.  Cloud, and the reality of a multi-platform, multi-cloud world, must be accommodated to get the most from valuable data.    

The right OBS solution can strengthen your cloud storage strategy in three major ways: 

1. Cloud design, cloud scale. 

Whether you’re migrating to the cloud or already there, the right object-based storage system must scale as data grows, on-the-fly and dynamically; and it must be able to handle maintenance, expansion and hardware failures without loss of data or of access to data. Ensure that the OBS you choose can be maintained and expanded seamlessly and without interruption of data availability.  

2. Movement and replication of data to the cloud.  

The cloud is simply an extension of today’s datacenter.  It brings the advantages of allowing placement of data close to users and applications, in addition to infrastructure flexibility. In use cases like streaming video or multi-site collaboration, accessibility is everything.  The same goes for applications: being able to spin-up compute resources as needed, rather than having underutilized on-site assets, brings huge business advantages.     

3. One application set.  

Cloud brings easy access to a broader range of applications, so you can better leverage data. When considering your OBS, evaluate the available API set, and insist on robust S3 compatibility.  There are hundreds of applications out there that can support Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3)—it has become the de-facto standard, having evolved to become a rich data management interface. Unlike traditional file system interfaces, it provides application developers a means to control data through a full API set. For your OBS, look for a high level of S3 compatibility. 

Factor #3: Multiple Storage Protocol Compatibility  

While object-based storage is crucial for applications like streaming services, medical imaging, backup and video surveillance, there are still many applications that natively access and manage file-based data and are not yet ready to be moved to object-based access protocols. When evaluating OBS options, look for a system that supports object storage architectures through protocols like the S3 API and Cloud Data Management Interface (CDMI) as well as traditional file structures like Network File System (NFS) and Server Message Block (SMB). This ensures that users can readily store and access both file- and object-based stored dataStorage that preserves native file formats without relying on gateways broadens the value of data, enabling multiple paths of access and allowing in-cloud compute resources to act on the data.   

Factor #4: Efficient, Self-Healing Data Protection    

To prevent system failures from resulting in data loss, you need a storage system with built-in self-healing technology. This allows the system to rebuild itself without any intervention even when multiple drives fail — which becomes more likely as the amount of data stored swells into the petabytes. The right OBS has data preservation features that can tolerate disk, node and even entire site failure by distributing data strategically across multiple nodes and/or sites, ensuring zero downtime and always-available data.     

Look for a system that has both replication to protect smaller objects and files via direct redundancy, and erasure coding, a complex distribution of data that provides for efficient, space-saving large-object resiliency without the hefty hardware redundancy needed for simple replication.     

Replication is best for ensuring fast access to small objects and files. With replication, you have full copies in multiple servers or locations. However, it’s less efficient — and gets expensive — with large objects.    

An alternative like erasure coding uses less storage, distributing storage of chunks of data across multiple disks, servers or datacenters intelligently in such a way that the data can be reconstituted if the system suffers a disk, server or site loss.   

Factor #5: Seamless System Security and Compliance  

Your OBS system should enable a comprehensive multi-tenancy and identity management mechanism, such as the AWS IAM (Identity and Access Management) model. This can help ensure strict authentication, tenant separation and access control that safeguards data for regulatory and compliance policies. Keeping data secure shouldn’t be “net-new,” requiring modification to existing security infrastructure. Look for IAM that employs the de facto-standard Amazon S3 protocol for seamless integration with your existing internal infrastructure. The bottom line is that you keep the keys to the kingdom. 

Factor #6: A Proven Track Record in Object-Based Storage  

There’s always risk involved when implementing new technology. When you choose an object-based storage solution, you want to know that it’s been built from the ground up for real-world enterprise implementation. While open source projects can lead to innovation, they may not be enterprise-ready. Look for a provider that offers integration with your existing infrastructure; partnerships with reliable, mission-critical hardware and software vendors; rock-solid security; ease-of-use and management; cost-effectiveness; and outstanding performance.   

When evaluating OBS vendors, look for those with a documented track record. The vendor should supply you with proven examples of successful implementations and good market traction for its solution. 

The Bottom Line  

Choose an object-based storage solution that’s proven today and will grow easily with your needs in the future. It’s not enough to simply store your data; you need to be able to use it. Consider how your data storage and data use needs will change as your business evolves to meet new and emerging demands like the IoT — with its high volume of data that can be transformed into intelligence to optimize manufacturing processes or provide consumer insights to offer a better, more personalized experience. 

Other future initiatives may include how you build out your presence in the cloud and manage multi-cloud environments. Make the right choice now, so that you meet today’s needs and have the flexibility to scale rapidly and adapt to an always-transforming business environment. 

Paul Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at Scality

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