What is Cloud Object Storage? Scalable and Cost-effective Data Storage in the Cloud

Effective cloud storage solutions empower businesses to efficiently store and access vast amounts of data with speed and reliability. This capability is crucial in finance, healthcare, and e-commerce sectors, where real-time data processing and analysis are essential. Cloud storage also underpins robust data backup and disaster recovery strategies, ensuring operational continuity and mitigating disruptions.

The global cloud object storage market has grown substantially, valued at USD 5.11 billion in 2021 and projected to reach USD 15.86 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 13.4% from 2022 onwards. This growth reflects increasing cloud adoption across industries, highlighting cloud object storage as integral to digital infrastructure. Businesses seek scalable, flexible, cost-effective data storage solutions to manage vast unstructured data from IoT devices, social media, and multimedia content. Integrating AI and machine learning technologies has further enhanced the value proposition of cloud object storage solutions, enabling advanced data analytics and content-based retrieval.

This article discusses how cloud object storage works, its benefits, and applications, and compares it with traditional file and block storage methods.

DigitalOcean Spaces offers developers and businesses a cost-effective and scalable object storage solution. Compatible with S3 API, it seamlessly integrates with existing workflows for storing and serving various data types like images, videos, backups, and static files. Spaces offers a built-in Content Delivery Network (CDN) for faster content delivery, minimizing latency and improving user experience globally.

With pay-as-you-go pricing and predictable costs, DigitalOcean Spaces caters to businesses of all sizes seeking reliable and efficient cloud storage.

What is cloud object storage?

Cloud object storage is a data management architecture in which data is stored as objects. Each object contains the data, associated metadata, and a unique identifier. This method is particularly effective for managing large volumes of unstructured data, such as videos, images, and documents, making it a popular choice in cloud environments.

In object storage, data is divided into discrete units called objects, which are stored in a flat structure known as a storage pool. This design allows for extensive scalability, as objects can be added without the constraints of a hierarchical system. The unique identifier of each object facilitates efficient data retrieval, though it may not match the speed of block storage for applications requiring low latency.

Cloud object storage vs. block storage vs. file storage

As data storage demands grow with the proliferation of the internet and diverse data types, traditional file and block storage methods may not be the best choice for managing vast volumes of unstructured data. However, they may have their place in your data storage strategy. Here’s how object storage stacks up against file and block storage:

File storage

File storage organizes data into a hierarchical structure similar to physical file systems in an office, where documents are stored in folders, drawers, and cabinets. Each file is named, tagged with metadata, and placed within a directory. To locate a specific file, you must navigate the correct path of folders and directories. Software applications and systems frequently use file storage systems to store configuration files for easy access and management. As the volume of files increases, this process can become time-consuming and cumbersome.

While file storage is straightforward and enables multiple users to access data concurrently, it is less scalable than other storage methods. It effectively manages small amounts of diverse data types but faces limitations as the data volume grows.

Comparing object storage vs. file storage

The main distinctions between file and object storage lie in their data organization and scalability. File storage uses a hierarchical structure with directories and follows strict protocols such as SMB, NFS, or Lustre. Conversely, object storage employs a flat architecture, with each object containing metadata and a unique identifier, simplifying locating data among potentially billions of objects.

Due to these structural differences, their scalability varies significantly. Object storage can scale to petabytes and manage billions of objects, making it highly suitable for large-scale data environments. In contrast, file storage’s hierarchical nature imposes constraints on its scalability, limiting its effectiveness in handling extensive data growth.

Block storage

Block storage operates by storing data in fixed-size blocks or chunks, each with a unique identifier for independent storage and access. This architecture is commonly utilized in Storage Area Network (SAN) environments and is ideal for applications requiring fast, random access to data, such as databases and virtual machines.

In block storage systems, storage volumes function like individual hard drives, managed and configured by storage administrators. Servers access these blocks directly over a high-speed network, enabling high performance and low latency. This direct access means servers can read from or write to specific blocks without the overhead of a file system.

Comparing object storage vs. block storage

Object storage excels in managing large volumes of unstructured data, offering advantages like durability, unlimited scalability, and robust metadata management capabilities. Conversely, block storage is well-suited for structured data storage in databases, virtual machine file systems, and scenarios with intensive read-and-write operations.

For a detailed comparison between object and block storage, please refer to our comprehensive article. This will help you make well-informed decisions tailored to your specific storage requirements.

How does object storage work?

Object storage in the cloud operates by treating individual data units as self-contained objects stored in their original format. Each object comprises three main components: the data, descriptive metadata providing information about the object, and a unique identifier enabling APIs to locate and retrieve the object.

Unlike file-based systems that rely on complex hierarchical structures, objects in cloud storage are independent of each other. This feature makes object storage particularly suitable for managing unstructured data types such as emails, images, audio files, IoT data, and web content, which do not conform to traditional relational database storage requirements.

Access to these objects is facilitated through APIs, typically HTTP-based RESTful APIs. These APIs allow users to perform PUT, POST, GET, and DELETE operations, enabling seamless management of cloud object storage from any location and device, provided the user has appropriate permissions.

Object storage can be implemented across various IT frameworks, including local databases, hybrid clouds, and multi-cloud environments. Its scalability and cost-effectiveness make it an attractive option for organizations with vast and diverse data volumes. It allows for virtually unlimited expansion of storage infrastructure without significant upfront investments.

Benefits of leveraging cloud object storage

Cloud object storage offers several benefits, including scalable, cost-effective solutions for storing and managing vast amounts of data across diverse applications and industries. Here are some of the key advantages:

1. Scalable architecture

Object storage employs a scale-out architecture that simplifies expansion. Adding additional nodes to the storage cluster seamlessly integrates new capacity into the existing pool. This straightforward scalability model ensures that organizations can start with minimal storage resources and expand incrementally as needed without disrupting operations.

2. Customizable metadata management

Unlike traditional file systems with limited metadata capabilities, object storage provides extensive customization options for metadata. Users can add tailored metadata tags to objects, improving searchability and enabling efficient data management. For instance, medical images can include metadata detailing patient information, injury type, and other relevant data points for easier retrieval and analysis.

3. High sequential throughput

Modern object storage systems prioritize high sequential throughput performance, making them ideal for streaming large files such as videos or backups. This capability minimizes networking bottlenecks by enabling parallel streaming across multiple channels, optimizing bandwidth utilization, and enhancing overall performance.

4. Flexible data protection strategies

Cloud object storage offers diverse data protection options beyond traditional RAID configurations. Organizations can customize protection levels based on specific data types and importance. This flexibility ensures critical data receives appropriate safeguards while optimizing storage efficiency and resilience against potential data loss scenarios.

Cloud object storage’s ability to scale seamlessly, manage metadata effectively, deliver high-performance throughput, and offer flexible data protection strategies makes it an indispensable solution for businesses grappling with massive and diverse data sets. These advantages support current data management needs and future-proof organizations against evolving storage requirements and challenges.

5. Standardization with S3 API

The introduction of Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3) and its API marked a crucial moment for object storage solutions. Previously, proprietary interfaces hindered widespread adoption among application developers. Establishing the S3 API as a standard provided developers with a stable framework for seamless data transfer across diverse platforms and services. This standardization has catalyzed rapid growth in S3-compatible applications and storage solutions, fostering a robust ecosystem of interoperability and innovation.

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DigitalOcean’s Object Storage solution is S3 compatible, ensuring easy integration and interoperability with a wide range of applications and services. With DigitalOcean’s object storage, businesses can benefit from scalable, secure, and cost-effective data storage solutions.

It supports extensive data management needs and is designed to simplify the development process, offering features such as high availability, data redundancy, and simplified access management.


6. Lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Cost efficiency is vital in storage solutions, and object storage reduces Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Its scalability from small to massive capacities minimizes hardware and software expenditures, while streamlined management reduces operational overhead. Object storage systems offer additional cost-saving benefits through configurable data protection, geo-replication, and policy-driven cloud tiering. These capabilities optimize resource utilization and support large-scale data management initiatives.

Use cases for cloud object storage

Object storage serves a broad spectrum of solutions. Here are some common use cases:

1. Big data analytics

Cloud object storage facilitates the collection and storage of vast amounts of diverse data, enabling comprehensive big-data analytics. Organizations can leverage this capability to derive valuable insights into their operations, customer behavior, and market trends.

2. Data lake foundations

A data lake uses cloud object storage for its core infrastructure due to its extensive scalability and durability. This allows seamless expansion from gigabytes to petabytes, with users only paying for storage. Features like scalable performance, native encryption, and access controls boost its appeal for managing large-scale data repositories.

3. Supporting cloud-native applications

Cloud-native applications use technologies like containerization and serverless to meet customer expectations quickly and flexibly. These applications are typically made of small, loosely coupled, independent components called microservices that communicate internally by sharing data or state. Cloud storage services provide data management for such applications and solutions to ongoing data storage challenges in the cloud environment. Object storage allows you to add any amount of content and access it from anywhere, so you can deploy applications faster and reach more customers.

4. Long-term data archiving

Cloud object storage offers a superior alternative to traditional on-premises tape and disk archives for long-term data retention. It ensures enhanced data durability, quick retrieval times, improved security, and compliance. Additionally, it supports the cost-effective archiving of large volumes of rich media and regulatory data, making it accessible for advanced analytics and business intelligence purposes. This adaptability makes it an ideal choice for organizations aiming to efficiently meet long-term data storage requirements.

5. Rich media management

Object storage enables efficient and cost-effective storage of rich media files, such as videos, digital images, and music. Using storage classes and replication features allows the creation of globally replicated architectures, ensuring accelerated access and reduced storage costs for distributed users.

6. Backup and recovery solutions

Object storage systems can be configured to replicate data, ensuring that if a physical device fails, duplicate storage devices remain accessible. This replication capability ensures the continuous operation of systems and applications without interruption. Additionally, data can be replicated across multiple data centers and geographic regions to enhance redundancy and reliability.

7. Machine learning applications

Machine learning relies on object storage for its scalability and cost efficiency. Training ML models involves processing millions to billions of data samples; object storage supports this massive data requirement. It facilitates real-time, scalable inference generation, often within milliseconds, making it an essential component for machine learning workflows.

8. AI/ML in cloud object storage

Integrating AI and machine learning (ML) with cloud object storage revolutionizes data management and analytics. AI algorithms can extract insights and patterns from stored data, enhancing predictive data analytics and decision-making. ML models, trained on vast datasets in cloud storage, improve in accuracy and efficiency. AI-powered retrieval systems enable efficient searches within large datasets, optimizing workflows and reducing manual effort. This integration supports diverse computational and storage needs, empowering businesses to leverage data-driven insights for competitive advantage and innovation across various sectors.

Factors to consider when selecting a cloud object storage solution for your business

When choosing an object storage solution, there are several factors to consider. Some of the most important factors include:

1. Scalability

When selecting an object storage solution, scalability is crucial. Choose a platform that can expand horizontally or vertically to accommodate your organization’s growing data needs without compromising performance or manageability. Ensure it can handle large volumes of data seamlessly.

2. Reliability and security

Select a platform that ensures data integrity and availability through robust protection features like erasure coding, replication, and versioning. Consider the platform’s durability guarantees to gauge the likelihood of data loss or corruption.

3. Cost

Assess the TCO for the storage solution, including hardware, software, maintenance, and support. For cloud-based options, account for data transfer and storage costs to ensure a complete financial evaluation. Additionally, examine the pricing model offered by the cloud provider. Some providers charge based on the amount of data stored, while others may include costs for data retrieval and transfer. Understanding these pricing structures helps in selecting a solution that aligns with your budget and usage patterns.

4. Performance capabilities

While object storage is generally not optimized for low-latency, high-performance workloads, selecting a platform that meets your organization’s performance requirements is crucial. Assess the bandwidth, throughput, latency, and data transfer speeds to ensure the solution delivers adequate performance for your specific use cases.

5. Compatibility with third-party applications

Integration with existing infrastructure and applications is vital. Choose an object storage platform that supports industry-standard APIs and protocols and is compatible with your organization’s preferred development languages and tools, ensuring seamless integration and operational efficiency.

Scale your company with DigitalOcean cloud storage

DigitalOcean’s Volumes Block Storage and Spaces Object Storage complement each other to fulfill diverse storage needs. Their combined features create a comprehensive solution, establishing a solid and scalable storage infrastructure.

Volumes Block Storage

DigitalOcean’s Volumes Block Storage is a high-performance, NVMe-based storage solution that offers faster speeds and lower latency than traditional HDD and SSD options. It ensures data security with encryption at rest and during replication and transmits data over isolated networks for added protection and reliability.

Pricing DigitalOcean’s Volumes Block Storage follows a predictable pricing model. The rates are as follows:

  • 100 GiB: $0.015 per hour or $10.00 per month
  • 500 GiB: $0.075 per hour or $50.00 per month
  • 1,000 GiB: $0.150 per hour or $100.00 per month

With transparent monthly caps and flat pricing across all data centers, users can manage their storage needs without unexpected costs.

Spaces Object Storage

DigitalOcean’s Spaces Object Storage is a scalable, cost-effective S3-compatible solution with an integrated Content Delivery Network (CDN). It ensures high performance, reliability, and data encryption via HTTPS. Spaces also allow customizable file access, supporting public and private options.


  • Starting Package: $5 monthly for 250 GiB of storage and 1 TiB of outbound transfer.
  • Additional Storage: $0.02/GiB
  • Additional Transfer: $0.01/GiB

Spaces Object Storage integrates seamlessly with third-party tools like Cyberduck, Rclone, and FileZilla, enabling easy management and synchronization of storage needs. It provides a reliable, cost-effective storage solution for various business requirements with transparent pricing and scalable options.

Whether you require mountable file systems for your applications or resilient object storage repositories, DigitalOcean offers intuitive cloud services tailored to your needs.

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