MinIO says S3 is primary storage on the public cloud

Can an object storage system function as primary storage? The general assumption is that primary storage is the fastest storage you can get to support important applications such as online transaction systems where response time is critical, and object storage is too slow.

Object storage supplier MinIO takes a different view: that MinIO is primary storage.

CMO Jonathan Symonds made the case for this extraordinary assertion in a blog post. He started out by widening the definition of primary storage. “It seems that for some, primary storage equals workloads that are run on SAN or NAS. Needless to say, that is a ridiculous definition. … The fact of the matter is that the definition of primary storage is the data store on which your application runs. That means your database, your AI/ML pipeline, your advanced analytics application. It also means your video streaming platform or your website.”

He asserts that “In the public cloud, object storage is almost always primary storage. AWS EMR, Redshift, Databricks, Snowflake, BigQuery all run on object storage and have since Day 1. That makes object storage primary storage for those workloads (and thousands more).”

But Symonds conveniently forgets that AWS also has its Elastic Block Store (EBS) “for data that must be quickly accessible … EBS volumes are particularly well-suited for use as the primary storage for file systems, databases, or for any applications that require fine granular updates and access to raw, unformatted, block-level storage.” AWS also supports primary file steerage with cloud-native FSx for ONTAP.

AWS does not specifically define S3 object storage as primary storage, but it does say “Amazon S3 offers a range of storage classes designed for different use cases. For example, you can store mission-critical production data in S3 Standard for frequent access” – which supports Symonds’s point of view.

However he then confuses things even more, asserting that AWS S3 is priced as primary storage. “Object has ALWAYS been primary storage on the public cloud and remains so today. The cloud providers ensure this by pricing file at 13x and block at 4.6x the cost of object.” But that means primary storage is the primary choice because it is low cost – not because it is more performant than block or file storage.

Then Symonds says VMware sees object storage as primary storage. “When VMware announced Tanzu, did they have any SAN/NAS vendors in the announcement? No. It was all object storage. Did they expect that Tanzu would only deal with ‘secondary’ storage? Of course not. Do they understand the enterprise better than anyone else? You can make a strong argument for that case. VMware sees object storage as primary storage.”

Let’s just remind ourselves that Tanzu also contains vSAN – VMware’s block storage – and that Tanzu’s object storage is MinIO. Symonds is hardly a disinterested observer here.

He sums his argument up by claiming “The same goes for RedHat OpenShift, HPE Ezmeral, SUSE Rancher. Every one of them sees object storage as primary storage. That is not to say they don’t also think of SAN/NAS as primary storage – they do, they just recognize that those technologies are legacy when it comes to the cloud. They all recognize that the future is … wait for it … primarily object storage.”

So SAN and NAS are dead and objects are the future, says an object storage supplier with speedy software who ignores AWS block (EBS) and file (FSX for ONTAP) as well. Until AWS stops supporting EBS and  FSx for ONTAP, or promotes S3 over them, we can’t say object storage is AWS’s primary storage. Not in the way database and other applications using block as well as file storage define primary storage.