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Surging to the Front of the Cloud Race: The S3 API and Object Storage

The competition for supremacy in the public cloud computing marketplace is one of the most eagerly watched contests throughout the data landscape. With AWS, Google, and Azure all vying with one another to offer the most advantageous services for what’s only a broadening user base, there’s no scarcity of innovations as they attempt to outmatch one another for customer patronage and loyalty.

Historically, there have been a number of reasons why customers would choose to opt for one of these providers over the others. Google’s renowned for its advancements in Artificial Intelligence; Azure is lauded for its office applications, while AWS offers a considerable amount of support for retailers and wholesalers.

According to StorCentric CTO Surya Varanasi, however, there is a host of additional factors, including storage. “If you want to do bulk storage on a lot of your data, is Glacier store in Amazon the best place or is it better in Microsoft? People always think of that. The second reason why people pick clouds is because of the applications that you run. Maybe, if you run a whole bunch of Oracle applications you sit in the Oracle cloud, or if you’re running a whole bunch of Windows applications, Azure’s the better bet for you.”

The endless array of considerations makes it all the more noteworthy that at this point, the industry seems to be converging on a standard for object storage: the S3 API. S3, of course, is a native storage service for Amazon’s AWS. With programmers and developers across verticals looking to leverage the S3 API for their applications and web pages, it’s critical to understand the advantages of this approach and what it means for the future of public cloud computing.

“We support block and file; it’s a unified storage platform,” Varanasi remarked about the recent release of Nexsan’s Unity Software v7.0. “We’ve added S3, the object interface, to our systems. If you look at S3, we’re not the inventors of S3, nor are we the first to market it. For a lot of folks who think about data lakes and things like that, S3 is very common. Amazon is the inventor, of course, but lots of companies actually support S3 on their bulk storage.

Portability, Flexibility

One of the capital reasons the S3interfaceis gaining popularity among a growing base of users is the innate portability and flexibility it offers for deployment. With the multi-cloud and poly cloud movements gaining traction throughout the data space, the ability to transfer cloud resources between locations is at a premium. S3 accelerates these trends. “If you can consume storage with S3, you can develop applications on that using S3 as a storage protocol and then move it to any cloud of your choice,” Varanasi mentioned. Thus, S3’s versatility isn’t only applicable to AWS, but to any cloud users select.

This advantage is critical for progressing in the cloud race because it indicates AWS is not only aware of the tendency of users to rely on different types of clouds, but also embraces this phenomenon. “You want to make it simple for people to use and move to the cloud and back and forth, obviously,” Varanasi denoted. “When you code applications to S3 you can move them back and forth.” Devising storage platforms that support S3 is also instrumental for enabling customers to have a unified experience while building and deploying applications. Varanasi commented that “there’s a lot of backup applications built atop our storage and they can consume storage as S3. We want to interface with these applications seamlessly. So, one of the reasons we added S3 was to work in that same environment.”

Object Storage

Although some vendors still support other protocols for object storage, the perception of this storage type (termed by Cloudian CTO Gary Ogasawara as ideal for deployments at “the edge”) has almost become inseparable from S3 itself. Object storage is suitable for a range of use cases because of its numerous benefits, which include:

  • Scale: The huge quantities of data object storage supports is one of its more notable characteristics. “One of the biggest advantages is its remarkable scalability,” Varanasi indicated. “You can scale to petabytes; that’s what it was originally designed for.”
  • Ransomware-Resistant: Object storage is primed to counteract certain types of cyberattacks, including ransomware. “With ransomware, you want to make the data that you store unchangeable, immutable,” Varanasi explained. “Object storage provides that natively as part of the protocol. With NFS [and] SMB, we have to do some more work to achieve that.”
  • Data Control: Because certain vendors have honed in on S3 as a standard protocol, organizations can use these solutions as a means of reinforcing data ownership and its accompanying privileges. Ogasawara cited a use case in which, by availing himself of such a storage platform, a developer who has previously written code for Amazon’s S3 API can re-point it at one such platform and “it just works. They get all the benefits of having the storage on-premise: they own the data, they can secure the data completely, and they don’t have to pay these outrageous egress charges to Amazon.”

Getting Ahead

As Varanasi pointed out above, the mere standardization of the S3 protocol for block storage isn’t quite enough for AWS to outright win the race for public cloud computing. However, with the plethora of benefits ascribed to block storage, standardization around this native Amazon protocol may be enough to put the company in the lead. Ogasawara speculated on the impact of this development in relation to the other major public cloud providers.

“What those guys would like is a new standard like, let’s call it S4, that’s not owned by Amazon, but is really, truly an open source standard in the same way that for files we have POSIX.” Ogasawa said. “That would be ideal, but you know standards are very difficult and it’s very difficult to be quick enough and agile enough to develop what actual use cases demand.”

In the meantime, then, there’s always S3, to the delight of AWS.

About the Author

Jelani Harper is an editorial consultant servicing the information technology market. He specializes in data-driven applications focused on semantic technologies, data governance and analytics.

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