Jul 16 2021

The Benefits of Cloud Object Storage for Higher Education

Cloud object storage offers a different approach for data retention. Here’s a look at how it differs from on-premises and traditional cloud storage methods.

The pandemic has accelerated the push to go off-premises. As InfoWorld notes, the growth of cloud is unlikely to slow over the next few years, especially as universities and colleges prioritize quality hybrid learning experiences for students.

But storage remains a challenge for many higher education institutions that continue to support blended or online learning. While traditional storage options such as storage area networking (SAN) and network-attached storage (NAS) still make sense for structured data storage, these options are not ideal for unstructured assets. With unstructured data now accounting for 80 percent of organizational information, postsecondary schools need a new way to handle the explosion of data.

What Is Cloud Object Storage?

The most familiar file storage systems are hierarchical. Files are stored in layered directories that are logically segmented and rigidly defined. Block storage systems emerged as cloud offerings gained ground. These solutions store data as evenly sized blocks of information, each with its own unique identifier.

According to Jon Toor, chief marketing officer of Cloudian, cloud object storage takes a different approach. “Cloud object storage is a flat-file system,” he says. “It has an addressing structure that lets you directly address a lot of data. And the amount of data we can address is essentially limitless, up to multiple exabytes.” In practice, object-based storage sees data assets defined as unique objects that aren’t uniform in size and include metadata descriptors. As a result, these systems are ideal for unstructured data that doesn’t conform to rigid file formats.

Toor offers a postsecondary example: “Say you’re storing a genome in a research institution. With cloud object storage, you can do analysis and take out key facts and store them in the metadata. Now, you have a searchable database with metadata that you can search, just like Google.”

How Does Cloud Object Storage Compare with Other Solutions?

Solutions such as SAN and NAS offer the benefit of onsite data storage, which is best suited for hierarchical file systems. Typical cloud-based systems, meanwhile, shift the heavy lifting away from data centers and into public or hybrid cloud frameworks.

But cloud object storage offers the best of both worlds. “The easiest way to think of it: It’s cloud tech that resides in your own data center behind your own firewall,” says Toor. “It’s close by and easy to use. And it’s part of your own infrastructure.” Thanks to their modular nature, object-based solutions can be easily expanded as storage requirements grow, offering capacity on demand with zero downtime.

Compared with other solutions, this approach offers better data security. “You get the same visibility around who’s accessing your data as with traditional cloud technology,” says Toor. “You can spot if it’s being accessed improperly and set up alerts to notify you.”

Toor also highlights the persistent nature of this storage solution. “This is an evergreen environment,” he says. “We sell a complete box, and you create a cluster by tying three boxes together. You add new boxes over time. As they age, they need to be swapped out. After five years, you simply add new boxes, migrate the data transparently in the background and decommission the service with no disruption and no downtime.”

MORE ON EDTECH: Here's 4 ways to manage multicloud environments in higher ed. 

How Can Higher Education Benefit from Object-Based Storage?

Toor points to three substantive benefits for postsecondary schools transitioning to cloud object storage:

  • Addressability: Since object-based storage offers unique identifiers that include metadata for every data object — and these objects aren’t constrained by size or information type — it helps researchers quickly find the data they need in academia. “You don’t have to look at the data itself,” says Toor. “For research, it lets you make better use of your metadata.”
  • Accessibility: Cloud object storage can reside in onsite data centers. Compared with traditional cloud solutions, this helps universities and colleges increase accessibility. Instead of having access requests travel back and forth from cloud servers, all data is stored and handled nearby.
  • Affordability: “What organizations zero in on is that cloud object storage costs 70 percent less than typical cloud storage, even factoring in the rack space and power,” Toor says. This is critical for higher education institutions that need time to recover financially from the pandemic.

Consider the University of Leicester’s recent adoption of Cloudian S3 compatible object storage. Not only did the school improve accessibility by eliminating its single-point-of-failure backup system, it also reduced storage space requirements by 50 percent, saving 25 percent in storage costs.

When it comes to adopting object-based storage for postsecondary schools, Toor puts it simply: “You can build it across multiple locations and can scale to any size. That’s why people move to cloud object storage.”

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