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Object-based storage systems

Traditional storage systems rely on disk drives and their native interfaces for persistently storing data. These interfaces rely on block storage semantics, where small, fixed-sized blocks of data are communicated along with their mappings (file system metadata). Object storage systems take a very different approach: instead of managing fixed-size blocks, they manage variable-sized objects and associated metadata (that provides system-level information about the object).

Object storage systems are a unique path to very scalable storage that incorporates multi-tenancy and security. OSD as a standard (see sidebar) can be built in a number of ways. You can use OSD-compliant components (such as OSD drives and initiators) or higher-level components (target systems that build OSD behavior over traditional drives). But the fundamental difference between block-based and object-based storage systems is that in block-based, you create objects from collections of blocks that contain both data and metadata using a protocol that communicates with blocks. In object-based, you communicate instead with objects and their associated metadata (see Figure 2). Object storage devices then become flat namespaces of objects, where hierarchy (if necessary) is built higher up in the storage system stack.

Block-based vs object-based storage systems

Object-storage devices and standards

Object storage systems are covered under the T-10 Object Storage Devices (OSD) standard. This specification details extensions to the standard SCSI command set to support object-level management. In addition to defining object-level access methods, the specification covers security and metadata management.

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