Scale-out NAS bounces back to fight for unstructured data against object storage

There’s a scrap breaking out between object storage and scale-out NAS. The battleground is the market for customers that need to deal with very large amounts of unstructured data.

In October, Cloudian’s CEO Michael Tso told that object storage is set to go mainstream, that it would be “the next NFS”, referring to the long-established file access storage protocol.

Then last week Molly Presley of scale-out NAS maker Qumulo said customers are coming back to scale-out NAS after object storage had made some gains.

That, she said, was because the products coming from relative newcomers in the market – so-called “modern file systems” – are “built to cope”.

“We are seeing customers that had moved to object storage coming over to scale-out NAS,” said Presley.

Object vs scale-out NAS numbers
Both sides can wheel out numbers to back up their views. IBM, while promoting its object storage products, provided IDC figures from 2016 that predicted object storage a capacity growing at an annual rate of 30.7% to achieve 293.7 exabytes in 2020.

Meanwhile, Qumulo points to a more recent IDC report that has scale-out NAS growth forecasts revised upwards by 2x with an $11 billion market by 2022 where they had previously predicted 10% annual increases.

Object storage has been a steadily-emerging storage technology for some years now. Its advantages lie in its ability to scale massively. This quality is a result of object storage doing away with the tree-like file systems in use in NAS (and indirectly in SAN) storage. When these scale to very large numbers of files they can start to slow up, and that has been a complaint with some leading but “legacy” scale-out NAS systems.

These sorts of issues helped object storage get a clear foothold in a market where previously those looking to deploy storage for large-scale file or unstructured data workloads went to scale-out NAS. Object storage’s flat file structure seemed to have done for scale-out NAS, especially when tied in with object’s affinity for the cloud in an increasingly cloud-oriented era.

But there have always been drawbacks to object storage too. These lie in limitations when working with existing application infrastructures, which are more often than not written for file system working (which includes locking that object lacks) but also in terms of performance. Object storage tends not to be the fastest while its data protection schemas are usually “eventually consistent”.

The scale-out comeback
And now there’s a bounce-back from scale-out NAS, according to Presley and the advocates of “modern file systems”.

That’s based on the fact that newcomers such as Qumulo but also including WekaIO and Elastifile are built for the cloud as well-as on-premises deployment.

But is also, as Presley said, “that all your data is available in a single tier. Applications are built to talk to file systems. You don’t have to re-write things to talk S3, for example. Modern file systems can do what object storage does, but with performance.”

So, things are getting interesting as the necessity of dealing with large amounts of unstructured data grows in importance. Scale-out NAS looked down-and-out, but now customers potentially have some serious, contemporary choices to make between object and file.

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