Object storage and file storage are distinct methods of data organization. File storage is structured in a hierarchical system with directories and subdirectories, requiring a specific path to locate each file. In contrast, object storage uses a flat address space where each piece of data, or ‘object,’ is stored with a unique identifier, allowing for more flexible and scalable data retrieval. Unlike file storage’s rigid hierarchy, object storage’s flat structure is particularly effective for handling large amounts of unstructured data, making it a more modern solution in diverse data environments.

What is Object Storage?

Object-based storage essentially bundles the data itself along with metadata tags and a unique identifier. The metadata is customizable, which means you can input a lot more identifying information for each piece of data. These objects are stored in a flat address space, which makes it easier to locate and retrieve your data across regions.

This flat address space also helps with scalability. By simply adding in additional nodes, you can scale to petabytes and beyond.

A Primer on File Storage

File storage has been around for considerably longer than object storage and is something most people are familiar with. You name your files/data, place them in folders, and can nest them under more folders to form a set path. In this way, files are organized into a hierarchy, with directories and sub-directories. Each file also has a limited set of metadata associated with it, such as the file name, the date it was created, and the date it was last modified.

This works very well up to a point, but as capacity grows the file model becomes burdensome for two reasons.  First, performance suffers beyond a certain capacity. The NAS system itself has limited processing power, making the processor a bottleneck. Performance also suffers with the massive database – the file lookup tables– that accompany capacity growth.


Object Storage vs. File Storage


Now that you know the basics of both object-based storage and file storage, let’s look at some of the key differences separating the two.

To start, object storage overcomes many of the limitations that file storage faces. Think of file storage as a warehouse. When you first put a box of files in there, it seems like you have plenty of space. But as your data needs grow, you’ll fill up the warehouse to capacity before you know it. Object storage, on the other hand, is like the warehouse, except with no roof. You can keep adding data infinitely – the sky’s the limit.

If you’re primarily retrieving smaller or individual files, then file storage shines with performance, especially with relatively low amounts of data. Once you start scaling, though, you may start wondering, “How am I going to find the file I need?”

In this case, you can think of object storage as valet parking while file storage is more like self-parking (yes, another analogy, but bear with me!). When you pull your car into a small lot, you know exactly where your car is. However, imagine that lot was a thousand times larger – it’d be harder to find your car, right?

Because object storage has customizable metadata and all the objects live on a flat address space, it’s similar to handing your keys over to a valet. Your car will be stored somewhere, and when you need it, the valet will get the car for you. It might take a little longer to retrieve your car, but you don’t have to worry about wandering around looking for it. All of these features and advantages also extend to object storage in the cloud.

Object Storage vs File Storage

Object Storage Metadata

For a real-life example of why metadata makes a difference, we can look at X-rays. An X-ray file would have limited metadata associated with it, such as created date, owner, location, and size. An X-ray object, on the other hand, could have a rich variety of metadata information.

The metadata could include patient name, date of birth, injury details, which area of the body was X-rayed – in addition to the same tags that the file had. This makes it incredibly useful for doctors to pull up the relevant information for reference.

If you want a more straightforward side-by-side comparison, take a look at this table that compares object-based storage vs file storage:


PERFORMANCE Performs best for big content and high stream throughput Performs best for smaller files
GEOGRAPHY Data can be stored across multiple regions Data typically needs to be shared locally
SCALABILITY Scales infinitely to petabytes and beyond Potentially scales up to millions of files, but can’t handle more
ANALYTICS Customizable metadata, not limited to number of tags Limited number of set metadata tags


This was only a general overview of the differences between object storage and file storage, but it should give you a clearer idea of the advantages of each type.

Object Storage and File Storage Together

Now Cloudian offers a way to get the goodness of object-based storage for your files: Cloudian HyperFile, a scale-out file storage system that provides NAS features together with the scalability and cost of object-based storage.

For more, download the Object Storage Buyer’s Guide.

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