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The object storage paradox

Next month, it will have been exactly six years since I wrote my first object storage blog, even though I didn’t mention object storage in that specific article. I had my head in the clouds as our early cloud startup was being acquired by Sun Microsystem when someone asked me to write a piece on EMC’s new baby, Atmos so I took a spin at it. That was object storage before object storage.

A lot has happened since. I’ve traveled around the world to evangelize object storage, organized dozens of object storage panels and wrote hundreds of pages on why companies need object storage, object storage use cases and early customer success stories. Today, I’m on a mission to help grow the success of the Scality RING, probably the most successful object storage platform in the industry. Since I joined Scality six months ago, I’ve seen more happy customers than the four years before combined.

So what is different? Why is Scality so much more successful than the other object storage players? Is it a better time? Maybe. Do we have better sales people? Quite probably. Is the product so much better? Most definitely.

There is indeed a big change in the market: data sets have finally grown beyond petabytes. But, companies still need to feel the pain before they take action. Technology evangelists’ predictions may force them to think, but budgets for new technologies are only approved when things get out of control. This still does not explain why Scality in particular is becoming the rising star.

I like to explain the success of Scality with what I call “the object storage paradox,” which consists of two parts:

First, Scality has abandoned object storage. Scality was the first company to understand that in order to sell more object storage it had to … stop selling object storage. In the Scality RING architecture, object storage is an enabler. It’s a small piece of a big piece of software that enables companies to build massive-scale storage pools. The object storage layer abstracts the underlying hardware and enables customers to deploy the RING on any industry-standard servers. However, to scale both storage capacity and performance to massive levels, the Scality RING software relies on a distributed, 100% parallel, scale-out architecture with a set of intelligent services for data access and presentation, data protection and systems management.

The second part of the paradox is that Scality was the first company to acknowledge that people still think – and will always be thinking – “files.” Yes, REST API’s are great – for certain use cases – but to enable a wider use of its technology, Scality supports native file system access to RING storage through a choice of file connectors and the integrated Scale-Out File System (SOFS). SOFS is a POSIX compliant virtual file system that provides file storage services without the need for external file gateways, as is commonly the case in other object storage solutions.

The SOFS file systems can be scaled-out in capacity across as many storage nodes as needed to support application requirements, and can be accessed by multiple NFS, FUSE, SMB or CDMI connectors to support application load requirements. The fact that EMC just acquired file gateway provider Maginatics after their earlier acquisition of Twinstrata – stresses the importance of native file system support.

Conclusion:

Object storage solves the biggest challenge the storage industry faces: to store massive volumes of data reliably, with the highest availability and in a cost-efficient way. The paradigm is a reaction to the scalability limitations of traditional (SAN/NAS) storage systems, but that doesn’t mean customers are willing to give up the benefits of file-based storage.

A simple analogy is the increasing success of the electric car. We all know that the use of internal combustion engines will soon be reaching its limits as our fossil fuel resources are not infinite. But that doesn’t mean we want to give up the convenience of cars and start using electric trains. Electric cars allow us to continue to enjoy the benefit of owning private transport but solve many of the problems of traditional cars (pollution and cost of gas). Scality’s software-defined storage takes a similar approach: it enables customers to consume storage in a way they have been used to over the past 3 decades, but with a better engine under the hood.

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