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What-ever happened to Object Storage?

We have heard a lot about Object Storage but really how much impact has it had on the storage market so far? EMC make lots of noise about Atmos for sure but I hear very much conflicting stories on the take-up; NetApp bought Bycast and I hear a deafening silence; HDS have HCP and seem to be doing okay in some niche markets; Dell have their DX platform and there are many smaller players.

But where is it being deployed? Niche markets like medical and legal uses but general deployment? I hear of people putting Object Storage behind NAS gateways and using it as a cheaper NAS but is that not missing the point.  If you are just using NAS to dump files as objects into an Object Store, you are not taking advantage of much of the meta-data which is the advantage of Object Storage and you continue to build systems which are file-system centric. And if you really want a cheaper NAS, there might be better ways to do it.

For Object Storage to take off, we need a suite of applications and APIs which are object-centric; we need a big education effort around Object Storage but not aimed at the storage community but at the development and data community.

Object Storage is currently being sold to the wrong people; don’t sell it to Storage Managers, we’ll manage it when there is a demand for it but we are probably not the right people to go out and educate people about it. Yes, we are interested in it but developers never listen to us anyway.

I hear Storage Managers saying ‘we’d be interested in implementing an Object Storage solution but we don’t know what we’d use it for’; this isn’t that surprising as most Storage Managers are not developers or that application-centric.

If you don’t change your approach, if you don’t educate users about the advantages, if you continue to focus on the infrastructure; then we’ll be asking this question again and again. Object Storage changes infrastructure but it is probably more akin to a middle-ware sale than an infrastructure sale.



  1. Chuck Hollis says:

    Happy New Year to you, Martin!

    I agree with many of the points you’re making here, but I think you might be overlooking a thought or two.

    Your first observation is that many of the other storage players (besides EMC) haven’t done much with object storage, other than a few press releases. We see the same in the field. While I suppose I can feel good that EMC is comparatively doing well, I’d rather see other storage vendors take a stronger interest and start pushing the “object agenda”.

    Your second point is that it’s all about the apps — specifically, applications that can take advantage of the richer metadata and policy models available with object storage. You’re right. Although EMC has invested considerable resources to get app developers to embrace Atmos (and Centera before that!), it’s never, ever enough.

    Your final point is that object storage really shouldn’t be sold in the traditional way, e.g. to the storage team. Couldn’t agree more. When it comes to object storage, it’s all about the application — whether that’s an industry-specific application, or the the guise of an IT service being offered by a service provider.

    Since object storage is usually tightly bound to the application, it’s typically managed by the “application team” or the “service team” rather than a traditional storage administrator.

    Which — for me anyway — explains why we don’t hear much about it from the day-to-day storage administrator community. They rarely — if ever — get their hands on it, simply because the way application and service delivery teams tend to be organized.

    The final point that needs airing is simply inertia: deploying an object-based application and supporting storage infrastructure at decent scale isn’t something that happens without a significant forcing function. People don’t wake up one day and say “gee, we ought to start using object storage”. There’s usually a big project forcing its consideration.

    I’d be curious, though, what the situation might be like for your company? From a distance, it looks like your company handles a lot of very big objects with lots of rich metadata. But I’d also bet that — despite any theoretical beneifts — it’d be a daunting task to get everyone to change their ways and start using object vs. NAS.

    Best wishes for a productive 2012!

    — Chuck

  2. Chris Mellor says:

    NIce post Martin. But …. I disagree to an extent. The problem with object storage is that it’s expressed advantages – scalability and ease of file finding in vast file populations compared to a file system simply don’t seem to be needed – yet maybe – and it’s sold as cheaper file storage using objects. For now I think here is no clear rationale for using object storage unless you have a filesystem-related problem that object storage solves.

    My two cents ….. Chris.

    1. @Chris:

      Hmmm… People don’t buy tablets because they have laptop-related problems that tablets solve. Same thing with Object Storage. Aside from it being less expensive, more scalable and more reliable than file systems, there are whole new areas that it applies to that no one in their right mind would ever consider using file systems for.

      So Martin’s got a solid point. Kudos! Good way to start 2012!

      Gotta find me a good excuse to fly over to London for one of these #storagebeers 😉


  3. tom leyden says:


    Interesting post. One thing you somewhat overlooked is that object storage is a new paradigm that requires innovative technologies. We all know the big companies are not the ones who innovate. Innovation comes from startups but startups have a hard time getting in the picture, in spite of the fact that they often have a lot more interesting things to say than the big boys. We try to educate the market, you could help, let’s work together.

    Also, please don’t forget object storage is pretty new and it is being developed to tackle problems companies are expected to have in the near future: file systems will hit their scalability limits, traditional storage will be impossible to manage etc. The best moment to sell backup systems to a company is right after they had an office burn down; companies are not aware yet of the problems they will face as their storage needs increase.

    But you are absolutely right about creating awareness in other communities. We’ve been working on that with success. The majority of the events we attend are non-storage.

    In respect to the use cases, I think there is a lot more in it than just that. The Media and Entertainment industry – I think you have some experience there – responds with large interest. True, we are putting file systems on top in some cases, but think about it: the M&E application guys haven’t had the time to modify their software. I think this is a temporary solution.

    Also, online applications. Any startup that is using s3 right will have every (cost-related) reason to move to their own storage infrastructure once they grow beyond a certain amount of storage. And yes, that will be object storage.



  4. Michael Hay says:

    Martin I think that you’ve hit on a lot of really great points. I love your blog post! I’d like to address a few points and some of the comments from Chris and Chuck.

    Firstly as I Tweeted I think that partly why we aren’t hearing about object stores as much as before are for two reasons: 1.) in the Gartner Hype Cycle we may very well be into the Slope of Enlightenment and 2.) all of the news about Big Data and analytics is drowning out everything else. Simply put, it isn’t as sexy as it used to be to write about and talk about.

    Now I’m going to address what Chris was talking about and in a back handed way show Chuck that there are other companies innovating in this space. Firstly HCP just won and award at the Storage Visions conference this week. However, that is not the real reason we are seeing success. We are seeing success because we have the right mixture of addressing legacy applications with and users who understand traditional file protocols (via HDI + HCP) and new application starts inside of companies or through next generation application vendors are targeting object storage platforms (via HCP through RESTful interfaces). Two discrete examples are Klinikum Wells in Austria and in the us NARA. For a cameo appearance of HCP actually working to archive former President Bush’s email archive and over time ERA go to about 1 min 20 sec here. What you’ll find is that for this new application HCP (formerly HCAP) is being used to both preserve and then discover digital assets and is becoming a key part of the US National Archives.

    We have many many many other customers in a variety of markets like education, health care, online commerce, governments around the world, etc. So again I think we are on the Slope of Enlightenment and sales aren’t just for a replacement of or as a cheaper NAS. I’m sure there’s some of that, but we are experiencing real usage of a true object storage platform. Finally Hitachi is innovating, winning against the competition and being recognized through recent industry awards.

  5. […] After the lightning pitches, it was time for the panel, which Robin Harris opened by inviting David to challenge the vendors in the panel. I was happy to be vendor of choice. Here is a short abstract of the conversation, the tone was all friendly and the topic was similar to Storagebod’s post, which you can read here. […]

  6. Adam Bane says:

    Great post Martin! We agree the education on object storage must continue to fully expose its potential. Not all NAS gateways are designed to turn object storage into cheap NAS. And for many organizations, they can be critical for enabling legacy data migration to object storage.

    We’re working to make object storage accessible to all today through a NAS interface and provide automated metadata extraction and tagging as we migrate the files for the applications of tomorrow.


  7. […] What-ever happened to Object Storage? (Via Martin Glassborow aka @storagebod) […]

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