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ASEAN seeks to tame data deluge with object storage

Led by Singapore and Thailand, the object storage market in Southeast Asia is expected to grow at a double-digit rate in the next few years

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW ASEAN: CW ASEAN: Banking on buckets of data

The potent combination of object storage in a private cloud has helped DreamWorks Animation churn out popular movies such as Shrek and Madagascar – even though the animators may not be in the same location when accessing the large animation files.

“To ensure its employees can collaborate and share ideas regardless of where they’re working, DreamWorks deploys datacentres around the world, leveraging object storage technology to allow for seamless access to its IT environments,” said JeanPaul Bovaird, general manager of storage and incubation at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Asia-Pacific.

Just as DreamWorks gets the performance it needs for computer animation, organisations across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are starting to turn to object storage due to the explosive growth of data from new sources like sensors, mobile apps and social media.  

“The explosion of data, specifically unstructured data – which does not reside in traditional row-column formats – is one of the key driving forces for the adoption of object storage technology in the region,” said Paul Serrano, chief evangelist at Nutanix Asia-Pacific and Japan.

The challenge IT faces is to efficiently store and access rapidly growing volumes of data instantly. Because unstructured data sources may scale suddenly, it can be difficult to manage such data using traditional file and block storage architectures, as well as network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area network (SAN)-based approaches.

Object storage is ideal for handling large volumes of unstructured data, as its storage architecture manages data as objects. In contrast, file systems and block storage manage data through file hierarchies or as blocks stored in sectors and tracks.

With object storage, each data object is like a “bucket” that holds the actual object, along with a unique identifier and some metadata on when the object was created and accessed, said Matthew Hardman, director of data solutions group at Hitachi Vantara. The metadata may also contain details on an object’s data protection characteristics or when it should be deleted.

It is this additional information that makes data in object storage easier to manage and organise – improving search, simplifying management and making it ideally suited for accessing growing volumes of information in real time, said Hardman.

In addition, object storage is designed to be inexpensive, which translates to lower costs for enterprises. Other capabilities such as scalability, encryption, retention management and immutability are also driving adoption, said Santanu Patro, research director at Gartner.

As for use cases, Patro said analytics workloads were driving demand for public cloud object storage services, while video surveillance data was a key driver for on-premise implementations.

“Think about all the documents that people have created – can these documents be located again or does it all just go into a storage vacuum? The question is how to make that data operational, to re-use it again”
Matthew Hardman, Hitachi Vantara

At RaboBank, the need to locate communications data quickly led the bank to deploy object storage to support current and future compliance investigations.

Previously, its IT team had to gather data from multiple sources, which might include email, voice calls, instant messaging, chat applications, as well as Instant Bloomberg and Eikon Messenger from Thomson Reuters. Colin Chatelier, head of UK datacentre and global storage at RaboBank, said this was a “time-consuming, resource-intensive and error-prone task”.

The bank decided to engage Hitachi Vantara to build an ingest-and-search platform using object storage to automatically collate, secure and index structured and unstructured data. Today, it has simplified access to the data needed for investigations through a central portal.

Chatelier said the platform had significantly improved the efficiency and flexibility of investigations across global business units, and slashed the time needed for discovery searches, from weeks to hours.

Growing ASEAN adoption

Across Southeast Asia, the object storage market has seen strong growth, doubling its size to reach about $13m at the end of 2017, according to Rajiv Ranjan, research manager at IDC Asia-Pacific.

While the uptake of object storage in ASEAN lags behind that of more mature markets, Singapore has been leading the charge, accounting for over half the region’s object storage revenues. 

In 2017, the Singapore object storage market grew over 100% from 2016, fuelled by investments in data archival and surveillance projects.

Besides the city-state, the next significant object storage market is Thailand with 15% of the region’s market share, followed by Malaysia and Indonesia.

“Smaller markets like Philippines and Vietnam are still not facing the challenges of fast-growing unstructured data and hence mostly use traditional storage systems. Vendors do not actively educate users on object storage in these markets as the opportunities are fairly limited,” said Ranjan.

Currently, object storage projects are being undertaken by larger organisations such as telcos, service providers, government, financial institutions, and media and entertainment industries, where data storage requirements may start from hundreds of terabytes to petabytes.

“Deployments are generally focused around static and unstructured data like active archives, content distribution, web and cloud applications, and more recently internet of things [IoT] services. We see a lot of interest from our customers in Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore in the ASEAN region. Outside of ASEAN, there is a massive uptake in New Zealand and Australia, as well as Korea,” said HPE’s Bovaird.

Roadblocks to widespread adoption

Despite a handful of bright spots in the ASEAN object storage market, which is expected to grow at a double-digit rate in the next few years, challenges to more widespread adoption remain.

For one, moving existing enterprise data to object storage platforms is a key challenge, according to IDC’s Ranjan, as organisations tend to have established non-object storage systems – which means data needs to be rewritten as objects.

Object storage systems may also be too large for the initial needs of enterprise users, with the entry point for most object storage offerings starting with a few hundred terabytes of data and scaling to the multi-petabyte range.

“Businesses need to have a keen understanding of their organisational needs before choosing to transition to an object storage model so as to avoid settling on a system that does not address operational requirements”
Paul Serrano, Nutanix

Nutanix’s Serrano said another challenge was the need to get used to the interfaces, as well as compatibility of existing applications. “Other considerations include the fact that objects in such models cannot be updated partially and must be stored at once, making them more suitable for nearly static or infrequently changed datasets,” he said.

“At the end of the day, businesses need to have a keen understanding of their organisational needs before choosing to transition to an object storage model so as to avoid settling on a system that does not address operational requirements,” he said.

HPE’s Bovaird said object storage makes financial sense when scalability is important, or when organisations are modernising applications to leverage application programming interfaces (APIs) as the primary access method.

“We expect to see ASEAN leapfrog some of their mature counterparts when modernising applications over the next several years, which will then drive new decisions in storage technology deployment,” he said.

Gartner’s Patro said manufacturers and channel partners would also need to provide more information on the use cases and benefits of object storage for adoption to improve drastically in ASEAN.

Software-defined future

Meanwhile, object storage technology is moving towards being software-defined, providing organisations with the choice of hardware and software platforms without getting “locked in” to a single supplier, said Bovaird.

In future, object storage technology could well include smart software combined with machine learning to allow enterprises to access and read content across data silos and analyse data for cleansing, formatting and indexing, said Serrano.

“It really boils down to making data accessible to people in the right ways. Think about all the documents that people have created – can these documents be located again or does it all just go into a storage vacuum?” said Hardman. “The question is how to make that data operational, to re-use it again.”

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