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What Is Object Storage?

What Is Object Storage? Benefits, Uses, and Opportunities

Inside Object Storage: Benefits, Use Cases, and Opportunities. When, Where, and Why to Leverage an Object Storage Architecture.

What Is Object Storage?

Object storage is a data storage architecture in which data is stored and managed as self-contained units called objects. Each object contains a key, data, and optional metadata. Flat, API-friendly, and highly scalable, object storage is the format of choice for public cloud storage services like Amazon S3 and on-premises solutions like Pure Storage® FlashBlade®.

What Is the Purpose of Object Storage?

Developed in the mid-1990s, object storage was created largely to address the issue of scalability. Traditional file and block storage, which were developed much earlier, aren’t equipped to handle the massive volumes of data—which is often unstructured and not easily organized—being generated today. Because file and block storage use hierarchies, data access slows as data stores grow from gigabytes and terabytes to petabytes and beyond.

Object storage scales quickly and easily as needed, even in the face of enormous petabyte and exabyte loads. Regardless of how many objects are stored, they’re all placed in a single namespace—which could be spread across a variety of hardware and geographical locations—and the system can continue to access any object in that growing pool without affecting performance at all.

How Does Object Storage Work?

Metadata plays a significant role in object storage. Each object is stored with its metadata and can be quite detailed. It can include information such as specific privacy and security policies, access rules, and even specifications, for example, about where a video clip was shot or who created the data. 

When a user wants to access data, the object storage system uses the identifier ID and metadata. Because objects are stored in a single pool without a hierarchy of folders or directories, that ID and metadata make it fast and easy to pinpoint the data you need. 

Object storage relies on REST APIs, which use HTTP commands to locate data by querying each object’s metadata.

Object Storage vs. File Storage vs. Block Storage

In the world of data storage, there are three main approaches to storing your data: file, block, and object. Let’s take a look at the main differences between them: 

Object Storage is a storage format in which data is stored in discrete units called objects. Each unit has a unique identifier or key, which allows them to be found no matter where they’re stored on a distributed system. 

Objects function as modular units, each acting as self-contained repositories complete with metadata that describes details like permissions, privacies, securities, contingencies, and other information. It’s similar to a photograph, for example, which might contain metadata describing the camera settings used to take a picture along with the time and place it was taken. 

Object storage supports HTTP and REST, the application programming interface (API) architecture used by most websites and software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps. 

Block Storage breaks data up into separate pieces of fixed-sized blocks of data that each get a unique identifier. Block storage allows the underlying storage system to retrieve it no matter where it gets stored. Block storage decouples data from its storage environment, allowing the storage area network (SAN) to store data where it's most convenient regardless of the underlying operating system. That means even if your storage system is a hybrid of cloud service providers, Linux servers, and Windows servers, your SAN will be able to quickly reassemble and retrieve your data when you need it.

File Storage is the storage format most people are familiar with—data is stored in files you can interact with in folders within a hierarchical file directory. It’s the storage format used by direct attached storage (DAS) and network attached storage (NAS) systems. Every time you access files on a hard drive, your local computer, or a shared drive hosted on a company server, you’re dealing with file storage. The file path to a specific piece of data can be long and inefficient, but the trade-off is greater convenience for the user.

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The Advantages of Object Storage

The primary benefits of object-based storage include:

  • Scalability: A flat architecture unencumbered by folder hierarchies or block tables provides near-infinite scalability.
  • On-demand data: Hyperscale object storage solutions like AWS S3 make it easier to pay only for the storage capacity you use. With infinite scalability, your data storage can grow with your organization.
  • Metadata-driven data analytics: Metadata gives you unprecedented control over the data in your system.
  • API support: You can access and manage data in object storage systems via REST commands.
  • Improved data integrity: Object storage systems can leverage erasure coding to protect data integrity by rebuilding chunks of your data and performing integrity checks to prevent corruption.

The Disadvantages of Object Storage

No storage architecture, including object storage, is ideal for every type of storage need. Some potential downsides of object storage include:

  • Slower access to data: Traditional cheap and deep object storage architectures suffer from performance bottlenecks when it comes to quickly reading and writing to the storage pool. However, modern fast object storage delivers improved performance.
  • All-or-nothing modification: Compared to block and file storage, it’s not as easy to edit object data quickly and it can’t be done piecemeal. If you need to modify part of an object, you need to rewrite the entire object.
  • Difficulty with write-intensive workloads: Because it takes longer to modify or write to object storage than it does to block or file storage, object storage isn’t ideal for transactional workloads or high-speed logging systems.

It should be noted that modern data storage solutions have started to tackle many of the bottlenecks traditionally associated with object storage. Combining all-flash storage with modern storage architectures that include native object protocol support has helped make fast object storage a reality.

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Examples of Object Storage Use Cases

Traditionally, object storage had been relegated to situations where you want to maximize cost per GB:

  • Archival data storage: Object storage works well with static assets that might be archived, such as video and audio footage and database logs.

  • Backup and disaster recovery storage: Erasure coding across data centers and the ability to version make object storage suitable for backup and disaster recovery.

But here are some scenarios in which object storage really shines:

  • Developing SaaS apps and websites: RESTful APIs and data objects make life easier for developers building SaaS apps and websites.
  • Managing unstructured data: A flat, hierarchy-free data structure makes it great for storing unstructured data (e.g., images, audio, and video) to infinite scale.
  • Powering the Internet of Things (IoT): Metadata can be especially useful for managing data across a fleet of IoT devices.
  • Analyzing data at the edge: Object storage’s facility with IoT devices extends to edge devices and fast, on-the-spot analysis of unstructured data collected there.

Why Choose Pure FlashBlade for Object Storage?

Pure Storage is a pioneer in developing enterprise-grade, all-flash storage systems with native performance. FlashBlade is the industry's most advanced solution delivering native scale-out file and object storage. By combining the infinite scalability of object storage with the massive throughput and parallelism of NVMe storage, FlashBlade overcomes the traditional performance bottlenecks associated with file and object storage. Accelerate your core applications today with FlashBlade, the first unified fast file and object (UFFO) storage platform.

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