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What is Object Storage?

In this piece we summarize what object storage is, and delve into how object storage works. We look at the differences between object storage, file storage, and block storage – as well as the architectural principles underpinning object storage systems, its benefits and limitations, use cases, and finally we look at CTERA’s object storage solutions for file services.

Defining object storage

Object storage is a data storage architecture that organizes and manages data as discrete, self-contained units called objects. Unlike traditional file or block storage, which store data in a hierarchical structure or fixed-size blocks, object storage stores data as a single unit with its associated metadata.

Object storage is designed to handle massive data sets and offers virtually limitless capacity by distributing data across multiple nodes or storage devices. This distributed architecture enhances data durability and availability, as objects are replicated or distributed across different locations or data centers.

How does object storage work?

Object storage works by organizing and managing data as individual objects. At a high level, object storage works as follows:

Object creation: when a new piece of data is created, it is divided up into “chunks” and combined with its metadata.

Object storage: the object, along with its metadata, is stored in a distributed storage infrastructure. Object storage systems typically consist of multiple storage nodes or servers that work together to provide storage capacity.

Data distribution and replication: object storage systems distribute data across multiple storage nodes to ensure redundancy and data durability. Replication and distribution mechanisms vary depending on the specific object storage system being used.

Retrieval: when a user or application wants to access an object, they provide the object’s unique key. The object storage system uses the key to locate the object within the distributed storage infrastructure. The object is then retrieved and returned to the user or application.

Scalability: as storage needs grow, additional storage nodes can be added to the system, expanding the storage capacity seamlessly.

Object storage vs. file storage vs. block storage

Object storage, file storage, and block storage have several key differences and specific use cases.

Object Storage File Storage Block Storage
Granularity Data is organized as discrete units; each object contains the data itself with its associated metadata Data is organized into a hierarchical structure of files and directories Operates at a lower level and breaks data into fixed-size blocks, with each block assigned an address and can be accessed independently
Access Method Objects are accessed using unique identifiers or keys Files are accessed using a file system Accessed at the block level and requires a storage protocol such as Fibre Channel or iSCSI
Use Cases Commonly used for backup and archiving, content distribution, web applications, and data analytics, where large amounts of unstructured data need to be stored and accessed efficiently Used for shared file systems, home directories, file servers, and applications that require traditional file system access Used for database systems, virtualization platforms, and applications that require direct control over storage at the block level

Architectural principles of object storage systems

Object storage systems are designed based on several key architectural principles that shape their functionality and capabilities. These principles include:

Scalability and distributed architecture

Object storage systems are built to scale horizontally by distributing data across multiple storage nodes or devices. This distributed architecture enables seamless expansion of storage capacity as additional nodes are added. It also allows for parallel processing and efficient utilization of resources, providing high performance and scalability for managing vast data sets.

Redundancy and data durability

From an architecture perspective, object storage systems emphasize data redundancy and durability. Data replication or erasure coding techniques are used to ensure that objects are stored across multiple nodes or devices, protecting against hardware failures or data corruption.

Metadata-driven operations

Metadata plays a crucial role in object storage systems. It contains essential information about each object, allowing for efficient indexing, search, and retrieval operations. Object storage systems leverage metadata to enable fast and direct access to objects based on their unique identifiers.


These storage systems prioritize simplicity in their design and operation.


Object storage systems offer programmability through well-defined APIs (such as RESTful APIs).


Object storage can support both structured and semi-structured data.


Object storage systems aim to provide scalable consumption models. They enable organizations to consume storage resources as needed, without upfront commitments or overprovisioning.

Object storage benefits and limitations

As we’ve seen, object storage provides numerous benefits, including ease-of-scale, cost reductions, and the ability to access unstructured data. There are of course several limitations to object storage:

Object Storage Benefits Object Storage Limitations
Scales to hundreds of petabytes High latency in retrieving specific objects
Slashes costs by 80% compared to enterprise filer Applications designed for standard file systems need to be rewritten
Well-suited for secondary storage of massive volumes of unstructured data (e.g., archiving) Not suited for databases that are frequently updated or real-time applications
Fast and efficient data recovery and retrieval based on detailed metadata Objects are arranged in flat buckets rather than familiar filesystem hierarchy
Simple REST API and permissions model Not compatible with CIFS/SMB protocol and NT ACL permissions

To summarize the benefits and limitations of object storage:

Benefits of object storage

  • Scalability: highly scalable and can handle massive amounts of data
  • Cost-effectiveness: can reduce costs by 80% compared to an enterprise filer
  • Ease-of-use: simple REST API and permissions model
  • Archiving: for secondary storage of massive volumes of unstructured data
  • Recovery and retrieval: fast and efficient data recovery and retrieval based on detailed metadata

Limitations of object storage

  • Latency: high latency in retrieving specific objects
  • Design: applications designed for standard file systems need to be rewritten
  • Flexibility: not suited for databases that are frequently updated or real-time applications
  • Lack of hierarchy: objects are arranged in flat buckets rather than familiar filesystem hierarchy
  • Compatibility: not compatible with CIFS/SMB protocol and NT ACL permissions

The good news is that with CTERA File Services, enterprises can enjoy all the object storage benefits, without the limitations. But before we dive further into CTERA’s unique capabilities, let’s take a look at object storage use cases and examples.

Object storage use cases and examples

While there are multiple potential use cases for object storage, we’ve highlighted two common examples of how enterprises might use object storage solutions:

Use case 1: Cloud backup and archiving
Object storage is widely used for cloud backup and archiving solutions. Enterprises can leverage object storage to securely back up their critical data and store long-term archives, ensuring data availability and compliance. The inherent ability of object storage to replicate or distribute data across multiple nodes enhances data durability and mitigates the risk of data loss – while the flexibility of object storage allows for easy retrieval and restoration of backed-up data when needed.

Use case 2: Content distribution and media management
Object storage is well-suited for content distribution and media management applications. With the growing demand for streaming services for example, object storage provides a scalable and efficient solution for storing and delivering multimedia content.

Content providers can store video files, images, audio files, and other media assets as objects, associating relevant metadata with each object. Object storage’s distributed architecture enables fast and reliable content delivery by caching and distributing media files across multiple locations or edge servers. This ensures high-performance streaming, reduces latency, and enhances the user experience.

To learn more about how your organization can better leverage the benefits of object storage for your specific use cases, reach out to a CTERA expert.

CTERA Object Storage Solutions for File Services

CTERA File Services enables traditional filesystem-based applications and workloads to work with object storage, with CTERA Edge Filer exposing the file server interface (e.g. SMB and NFS protocols), acting as a replacement for the existing file server.

With CTERA’s object storage solutions, applications don’t need to be rewritten and users can continue to work with a hierarchical file structure. The Edge Filer caches files locally for fast access, and syncs files across multiple sites – while the bulk of the data is kept in low-cost object storage either on-premise or in the cloud.

With CTERA File Services, enterprises can obtain:

  • Infinite scalability
  • Reduce storage costs
  • Global data management and control
  • Enhanced data visibility and insight
  • End-to-end data security


We looked at everything related to object storage, from how it works to its fundamental architectural principles, benefits and limitations, use cases, and more. Object storage has powerful capabilities – and while it has many benefits, it also has some limitations that make it challenging for enterprises to get the most out of their object storage solutions.

With CTERA File Services, enterprises don’t need to choose “either/or.” They can get all the benefits of object storage, with none of the drawbacks. To learn more about CTERA object storage solutions for file services, set up a live demo today.


What is an example of object storage?
An example of object storage would be Amazon S3 storage. An example of a use case for object storage would be content distribution and media management applications.

What is Amazon S3 Storage?
Amazon S3 stands for “Simple Storage Service.” It is a cloud-oriented object storage service.

Is SSD object storage?

SSD, or solid state drive, uses flash memory to store data. SSD can be used as underlying storage for object storage systems, providing fast read and write performance. However, SSD itself is not necessarily object storage – which is an architectural approach for organizing and managing data.

Is S3 block storage or object storage?
Amazon S3 is an object storage service. It does not provide block-level access like traditional block storage.

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