This content is part of the Essential Guide: Unstructured data storage showdown: Object storage vs. scale-out NAS

What's the role of metadata in unstructured data management?

Discover how to expand your organization's use of metadata to improve the management and storage of unstructured data to make it more organized and accessible.

To some extent, most storage systems use metadata -- all that data about data. For file-based storage systems, such as those based on NFS and SMB, the file name, date of creation, modification date and user ID associated with the file are considered metadata. This information is used to help users locate files and have an understanding of when files were created and updated.

Object storage systems take the role of metadata to a new level, improving unstructured data management. Whereas a file-based storage system has clearly named files that exist in a folder-centric hierarchy, object storage systems are flat entities in which anywhere from tens to tens of millions of objects might exist. These objects can be anything from images to IoT device event logs to all the unstructured data that exists in your organization.

Without metadata, any descriptors about the underlying objects in an object system would be lost. From this perspective, the role of metadata is critical.

But it goes further than that. In modern object storage systems, organizations can use metadata to improve unstructured data management and storage. In fact, metadata is being used to improve storage virtualization, services, governance policy enforcement and end-user analytical efforts.

Comparing object, file and block storage
Object, file and block storage compared

The role of metadata and Microsoft Word docs

In modern object storage systems, metadata is being used to improve storage virtualization, services, governance policy enforcement and end-user analytical efforts.

Although metadata drives object storage, that doesn't mean there aren't ways to improve how metadata is used for unstructured data management. Consider the role of metadata and a simple Microsoft Word document. Every document has dozens of metadata fields that can be completed, including username, editor name, disposition and document ID.

You can also create custom fields. These are metadata fields about the Word document. In a vast number of organizations, these fields are rarely used, but they can be useful for locating information later on, especially because you can add custom fields.

The same goes for every type of unstructured object you save in your storage environment. Determine the common types of data you store, look for metadata opportunities and use it to help provide better overall unstructured data management in your storage environment.

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