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What is object storage?

Object storage for unstructured data in the cloud

Object storage is a popular method of cloud storage often used for storing unstructured data. Also called object-based storage, this method is scalable and efficient; it’s advantageous particularly for backup, archiving, or any instances where data does not have to be dynamically updated. As enterprises deal with growing amounts of data—79 zettabytes were generated worldwide in 2021—the need for flexible mass storage in the cloud is crucial, and object storage provides a cost-effective and manageable solution.

How object storage works

To understand how object storage works, it’s important to understand a few terms.

Unstructured data: Unstructured data is digital information that arrives without predefined fields or a purposeful format. In an Internet of Things (IoT) world, unstructured data comes as text, documents, images, audio, video, and many other forms. Because of continuous data from devices, today’s data is overwhelmingly unstructured. Learn more about unstructured versus structured data.

Buckets: Containers holding data are known as buckets.

Storage nodes: Storage nodes contain and manage individual buckets and are linked to a router, which keeps a list of what’s in each storage node.

Router: The router contains a series of rules for assigning object identifiers within the nodes, enabling simpler organization within many nodes.

Object storage buckets hold three items.

  • The data itself (media, backup data, document files, device data, and so forth)
  • Metadata for the data to provide context and background
  • A unique identifier for the bucket address

When data is stored in object storage, the data and its associated metadata go into a bucket. The bucket and its contents (data, metadata, and identifier) are stored in a storage pool using a flat address space—that is, there is no hierarchical organization to the buckets. Both read and write requests are sent through the router, which then identifies the proper node. Once the request is forwarded to the proper node, the node handles the object request accordingly.

Benefits of object storage

Object storage has many benefits over block storage and file storage. These include

  • Cost-efficient pricing that scales with your usage
  • Easy scalability through cloud-based resource usage without the limitations of partitions, allowing for growth as needed simply by adding nodes
  • Faster data queries due to the router/node/bucket data structure
  • Clients available across operating systems and programming languages to flexibly work with your IT department’s specifications
  • High levels of redundancy between nodes, meaning that even if one node is lost, other copies exist so end users experience minimal downtime
  • Simplified application architecture through the storage of metadata alongside data within a bucket

Limitations of object storage

When deciding between cloud storage options, consider these limitations of object storage.

  • Updating data within the object requires a complete retrieve-update-rewrite process. Therefore, object storage isn’t the best choice for data requiring constant updates (but ideal for media storage or backup data).
  • It works particularly well with large files, but it can’t handle a heavy volume of records and shouldn’t be used in place of a database.
  • Though some clients exist for object storage management, the platform isn’t designed for mounting by an operating system (OS). The structure of object storage makes browsing difficult compared to a standard OS file browser.

Use cases

Here are some use cases ideally suited for object storage.

  • Archiving: Object storage works very well for files that remain static with no required updates. For archival data, object storage can scale continuously and be accessible as needed.
  • Backup: Similar to archiving, object storage is an ideal solution for redundant backups. Because of its scalability, object storage can build levels of redundancy while providing easy restoration sources when needed.
  • Media files: Media files such as videos, high-resolution photos, and audio recordings require a lot of storage space. These types of files are constantly being generated in the IoT. Object storage can handle them because nodes can be added easily for additional storage.
  • Static assets: Logs, text files, documents, and other such information that doesn’t require continuous updating can use object storage for long-term storage and access.
  • Data lake: A data lake is a repository housing both structured and unstructured data. Object storage’s ability to scale while handling massive volumes of data ensures that the data lake runs efficiently and reliably.

Why use object storage?

Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Object Storage is an ideal choice for data lakes or other use cases that require housing large volumes of data in native formats.