Did object storage come of age in 2013?

Some crossed the chasm. Some turned back...

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Object storage entered 2013 pretty much as a niche technology but exited the year headed towards mainstream status, with ViPR, Black Pearl and EVault leading the way.

Others, though, held back. As of the year end, we saw IBM doing nothing much with objects, NetApp apparently standing still with its StorageGRID, and Dell exiting the field.

Counterbalancing these three, EMC re-entered the object world with ViPR, while SpectraLogic, Seagate and EVault all entered object storage in significant and different ways. Suppliers gained funding and strengthened products and, suggesting growing respectability, IDC introduced an object storage marketscape with a supplier rating eye-candy chart.

Being objective over EMC

EMC was a major mover in the object space, stirring its pot with ViPR, the provision of a separate control plane for storage hardware and software resources that store data and provide storage resources. ViPR first slithered into view in January as EMC’s Bourne Project - starring Amitabh Srivastava, head of EMC’s advanced software division and ex-Microsoft Azure Cloud man. EMC was an object storage pioneer with Centera and its Atmos system is its current mainstream object storage hardware array.

ViPR info emerged through the year with this object-tinted snake emerging from EMC’s basket of goodies during the summer.

ViPR enables data services to be layered onto its control plane with the plane translating those data services requests into commands understood by the data-storing and delivery resource of choice. Srivastava’s team included an object data service alongside more basic file and block access data services.


ViPR and its object data service

It makes little sense for a ViPR object data service to be fulfilled by an Atmos array; you save time and cycles by having apps needing object services talk to the array direct. Attention became focussed on Isilon scale-out filers being used for object storage, with a ViPR Object data services entity as a front end. Rumours emerged of energetic discussions and perhaps even some dissension inside EMC about this, but they seem to have gone way.

We have not come across any customer using the ViPR object data service yet but EMC’s energetic re-entry into the object space with these advanced concepts strengthened the general perception that object technology was becoming a major strategic consideration for EMC.

Dell, Amplidata and Caringo

How odd it was, in comparison, that Dell discontinued its OEM deal with Caringo to provide object storage software for its three year old DX6000 storage appliance line. This deed was done in April and indicates, with hindsight, that Dell couldn’t satisfactorily see into object storage accounts, not that those accounts didn’t exist. Judging by the activity of new entrants and object startups in the year they very much did exist. Dell just couldn’t find a way of reaching them profitably.

Better news for Caringo came in June when social discovery site Massive Media replaced its Amplidata object software with competitor Caringo’s software because it could handle the large number of small files better.

Amplidata in turn was fortified by Quantum’s strong focus on its OEM’d Amplidata software product, branded Lattus, which has become a major part of its StorNext file management and virtualisation suite for oil and gas, media and entertainment and other industries.

Amazonian storage

We heard in April that the Bezos behemoth, the grand-daddy of cloud object storage, had two trillion objects in its S3 storage cloud, double the number it had a year before. It stored just 10 billion objects in October, 2007. We’re probably looking at 4 trillion now, if the recent rate of progress is extrapolated roughly.

S3 stores data as objects in buckets in a key:value scheme. The details of Amazon’s object storage scheme have not been revealed. With Amplidata, Caringo, Cleversafe, EMC, HDS and Scality all growing it's apparent that object technology is not just the preserve of hyper-scale web sites like S3, and ordinary enterprises can use the technology.

Cleversafe and IDC

Cleversafe revealed a $55m D-round of funding in August. It was also named as top object storage dog in an IDC marketscape study.

IDC object storage marketscape

IDC object storage marketscape.

This showed the top five object storage vendors, in terms of their capabilities and strategies to be:

  • Cleversafe
  • Scality
  • Data Direct Networks
  • EMC
  • Amplidata

In market share terms (the size of their circle on the IDC chart above) the ordering of these five suppliers was from EMC in first position, through Cleversafe, DataDirect Networks, Amplidata and then Scality in the fifth position.

This chart was illuminating not just in its contents but in that IDC reckoned the object storage market was mature enough to be worth tracking.

In December Cleversafe updated its products with faster processors, solid state storage, and memory caching and refreshed software, capping a good year.

Coho Data unwrapped

This start-up emerged from its stealth invisibility cloak in November with a $25m B-round for the continuing development of a “lash-tuned scale-out storage architecture designed for the private cloud that delivers unparalleled performance at public cloud capacity pricing.” With its scale-out DataStream arrays customers will be able “to build their own high performance Amazon-style storage for their data.”

These implement an object store with, we understand, file (NFS, SMB) and iSCSI block access protocols layered on top. HTTP-based key/value APIs will also be supported.

One interesting aspect is that the Datastream technology does not use erasure coding. The Coho Data use of object storage is individual but, all in all, it is part of the trend to stick object technology underneath file access protocols, with Coho having iSCSI block access layered on top as well.

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