File storage: folders, directories, and structure
Traditionally, data storage was file-based, with named files placed in folders using a hierarchy of directories and subdirectories. To many, this file storage system is recognizable; on a basic level, it resembles how one might create folders and subfolders on a computer's hard drive. If you are looking for a file, you can arrange the files in a directory based on a handful of limited labels: file name, date created, date last modified, file type, and size.
This nested system is time-tested and effective in many situations. Smaller businesses with less storage demand, for example, are still well served by an old school file storage system. File storage does an excellent job of handling relatively small amounts of data. File sharing for a single office or archiving files in a smaller data center require nothing more than this system.
Although it still has applications today, file storage has performance limitations when scaled up. With massive data growth expected to continue, the utility of file storage will be tested and challenged.
Object storage: a vast box of tagged data
Object storage is much different than file storage. Unlike file storage, which uses a file system to separately store metadata, object storage combines the metadata with the file data into a single “object.”
Object storage addresses some of file storage's limitations by flattening the space where data resides and allowing access through a broad identification ability afforded by metadata tags. Think of object storage as putting objects in a large, virtually limitless, open-roofed warehouse and having the ability to easily pluck out the objects when you need them.
If you want all of the images of red cars, for example, you retrieve all files based on that metadata tag, not by scouring file directories. With object storage, you can add a lot of data without the bottlenecks that occur when a labyrinthian file look-up directory becomes unwieldy.
Benefits of object storage
Beyond the use of metadata descriptions, what are object storage's other features?
- Ease of use. Objects are assigned unique identifications and a publicly accessible HTTP URL.
- Scalability. There is no file structure to grow in complexity when more data is added. Object storage grows quickly and is practically limitless.
- Cost-effectiveness. For enterprises handling large amounts of data, cloud-based object storage can be quite cost-effective compared to the large expense of physical tape backups and database administration.
- Agility. File storage databases can become highly complex. Object storage's simplicity means less dependence on system or database administrators. In the context of application development, there is more freedom to evolve without the constraints of infrastructure layers.
- Durability. Object stored data is highly durable, with data being sliced and dispersed across multiple devices and cloud storage facilities. Typically at least three replicas are stored, so if a portion of the data is corrupted for some reason, the complete object can still be accessed.
Wide uses in media and entertainment
Because of its scalability, object storage use is widely popular in the media and entertainment fields. Video and audio files constantly expand, with 8K video and beyond bringing storage demands into petabytes.
Media companies need cost-effective solutions to store this data and enable easy access. The rich variety of metadata associated with the object facilitates such access.
Standard files have limited metadata, such as created date, owner, location, and size. The rich tags available in object storage can contain contextual information that facilitates data-heavy media object storage. In addition, media and entertainment files are typically unstructured data – not the type of data that resides in database fields and is managed using SQL. Object storage optimizes the handling of those files.
Object storage is not an emerging technology – it has been in use since the late 1990s – and it is not necessarily a replacement for file storage. Structured data and smaller enterprises using smaller amounts of data are still well served by the latter.
But for increasingly complex and dense data storage capacity, object storage will continue to outshine other methods with its flexibility and accessibility.