File locking and workload limitations in Cloudian hybrid cloud storage

Hybrid cloud has had a boost recently with the emergence of file/object environments that allow customers to operate a single namespace between on-premise and public cloud locations.

One of the pioneers here is Cloudian, which offers its HyperStore object storage-based environment with file-level access via NFS and/or CIFS, in HyperFile. The latter capability was first introduced last December in a partnership with Milan-based Infinity Storage and that has now been cemented by the acquisition by Cloudian of the Italian firm.

But, how exactly can file and object co-exist? After all, file systems bar simultaneous user access via file locking while object storage has no such mechanism.

Talking this week to Michael Tso, CEO, and Caterina Falchi, new on-board VP of file technologies at Cloudian, it was interesting to delve into how the two sides – file and object – relate to each other in Cloudian, and the limits that places on possible workloads.

There’s no doubt that what Cloudian offers is an exciting development that allows customers to operate with file or object access with a single namespace between on-premises locations and public cloud services from Amazon, Google and Microsoft. It’s part of an emerging class of products, that also include those from the likes of Scality, WekaIO, Qumulo and Elastifile.

The fundamentals of Cloudian are that data is kept as objects. “The ultimate version of the truth is object,” said Tso. And S3” is the protocol by which data stored as objects is communicated with.

Now there is file access via NFS and CIFS, but data is converted to object format behind this. File locking exists in NFS and CIFS but once data is in object format it can, in theory, be altered by more than one party at a time.

How will this be handled? Tso and Falchi say global file locking is on the roadmap, but for now, “There’s file locking from the file side,” says Tso. “But it’s not easy from the object side. That’s because we don’t want to change S3 standards that do not contain any locking mechanism. “It’s something we still debating if we need to do,” he added.

“We’ve not had any major issues,” says Tso. “People manage access at the application level. The only time it would be a problem if there was some incidental change in the flow, where you don’t expect someone to come in from a different interface.”

So, like Google drive or Dropbox, if someone has access at the same time then different versions are created.

From that, said Tso, use cases that are beyond the pale are, “Remote and branch office stuff, where people are collaborating, several people working on the same document making multiple edits at the same time.”

But, he said, Cloudian will work for Internet of Things data, file sharing, and media archives, and looks to customers that want to move,, “from tape or Isilon [Dell EMC’s scale-out NAS product]”.

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