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November 2013, Volume 2, Number 10

What is object storage and why do cloud providers rely heavily on it?

Some -- not all -- cloud storage services are based on object storage back ends that don't bear much resemblance to the block and file storage devices normally seen in the enterprise. What is object storage, and why do cloud providers rely so heavily upon it? Unlike other storage technologies, object storage does not store data as hierarchical files, but packages that data into an "object" with a unique identifier or key, plus any associated metadata, that are then placed in to a flat namespace or "bucket." Those objects can then be accessed from anywhere in the world using a standard HTTP address and manipulated using a REST API, making object storage a natural for cloud applications. The large cloud providers love object storage because it is consummately scalable. To add capacity, just add extra nodes; the underlying object storage platform takes care of replicating the objects to meet the necessary redundancy. Cloud providers also love it because it's cheap. Most object storage systems are built on top of commodity servers ...

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