Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Is 2014 the Year of Object Based Storage?

Object based storage has actually been around for a long time.  Some implementations started to appear as early as 1996, and there have been different vendors offering the technology ever since.  However, it has never experienced the “explosion” in usage that some were predicting that it would. 

It least until now.

IDC said the OBS market is still in its infancy but it offers a promising future for organizations trying to balance scale, complexity, and costs. The leaders include Quantum, Amplidata, Cleversafe, Data Direct Networks, EMC, and Scality, with other notables such as Caringo, Cloudian, Hitachi Data Systems, NetApp, Basho, Huawei, NEC, and Tarmin.

Last year OBS solutions were expected to account for nearly 37% of file-and-OBS (FOBS) market revenues, with the overall FOBS market projected to be worth $23 billion, and reach $38 billion in 2017, according to IDC. At a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.5% from 2012 to 2017, scale-out FOBS – delivered either as software, virtual storage appliances, hardware appliances, or self-built for delivering cloud-based offerings – is taking advantage of the evolution of storage to being software-based.

IDC predicts that scale-up solutions, including unitary file servers and scale-up appliances and gateways, will fall on hard times throughout the forecast period, experiencing sluggish growth through 2016 before beginning to decline in 2017.

IDC said emerging OBS technologies include: Compustorage (hyperconverged), Seagate Open Storage platform, and Intel’s efforts with OpenStack. The revenue of all of OBS vendors combined is relatively small right now (but expected to grow rapidly) with a total addressable market (TAM) expected to be in the billions.  Noted Ashish Nadkarni, Research Director, Storage Systems, IDC. “Vendors like EMC and NetApp have not ignored this market – if anything they have laid the groundwork for it.”

One of the challenges that IT continues to confront is the growth of unstructured data.  This growth creates challenges around data protection, as well as for users when they go to find their data.  Object based storage addresses both of these issues. Use of technologies like Erasure Codes allows OBS to store data in a way that is both highly durable, as well as geographically distributed.  This eliminates the need to create multiple full copies of the data in multiple locations, as you would have to do with traditional NAS arrays. So, rather than having to place storage systems that comprise 300% of your actual data size, you can utilize as little as 50%.

In addition, because many object storage systems are software solutions that can be run on nodes using low cost server hardware and high capacity disk drives, they can cost significantly less than proprietary NAS systems. Throw in better data protection and enhanced features that can enhance search performance and efficient data tiering and it’s easy to see why OBS is catching on.

So, what’s the downside?  There are a couple.  First, it’s performance.  OBS typically cannot match the performance of traditional NAS arrays. With object retrieval latency in the 30-50ms range, applications that require high performance are going to have a problem with OBS.  This is one of the reasons that AWS recommends that you put data on Elastic Block Storage if you need good performance, as opposed to using S3.  The other challenge is that applications today are often not written to access data on OBS. Therefore changes to applications must be made, or the OBS storage must be accessed through a NAS gateway.  Introducing a NAS gateway, however, eliminates the flat namespace, as well as the ability to attach meaningful metadata to your files/object.  This reduces the utility of OBS significantly.  However, the use of NAS gateways as an interim solution may simply be a necessity if OBS is to take over the NAS space.

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