Block Storage Vs. Object Storage Vs. File Storage

Storage is a significant consideration for any business. With an increasing shift toward cloud storage, it’s vital that enterprises, and those that build systems within those companies, understand the architectural differences of the three predominant cloud storage types. Block, object, and file storage all offer a different cloud-based solutions that address different business use cases. Each needs to be assessed on their own merits before deciding which option presents the best fit. Let’s start with the first on the list, block storage.

Block Storage

Block storage works by saving data to the storage media in fixed-sized chunks, otherwise known as blocks. Each block is assigned a unique address, but that is the only metadata attached to each one. When it comes to management and organization of block storage, another software program is required to administer which blocks go where. The same software or another independent solution then handles data retrieval by using that metadata “address” to locate and organize the blocks of data into complete files.

Block storage can be an excellent solution for those running large databases or ERP systems that require low latency storage for each host. It’s similar in many ways to direct-attached storage (DAS) and is often accessed via a Storage Area Network (SAN). The added advantage of block storage is that the data is highly redundant across the blocks and storage volumes, meaning if any component suffers an outage, the data can still be retrieved.

Block-based cloud storage solutions like Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) are provisioned with each virtual server and offer the advantage of providing the ultra-low latency required for high-performance workloads. EBS Volumes on AWS are decoupled from the servers they are attached to which means that you can move an EBS volume from one server to another, for example, if the first server fails.

Object Storage

Rather than breaking up data into blocks and then storing those blocks as separate pieces, each with a unique identifier, object storage throws different data units (“objects”) into one large storage pool. These objects are not ingrained in files and other folders; instead, all of the relevant metadata pertaining to the object are combined to form a unique identifier.

It’s perhaps best to envisage object storage as looking at a vast lake full of fish. Each fish is an “object,” and you, like a hunting eagle, can pick out and retrieve whichever fish you like. But unlike hunting for a fish in a real lake, the water is transparent, and you have a bird’ s-eye view of each fish’s identifying features (metadata), so you know exactly where to go to grab the fish you want.

Because object storage uses one huge storage house or “pool,” it is easily scalable, and the improved metadata characteristics mean this solution lends itself to many applications built in the cloud. Object storage solutions like Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) are ideal for building modern applications from scratch that require scale and flexibility. They can also be used to import existing data stores for analytics, backup, or archival purposes.

File Storage

At the simpler end of the cloud-based storage solution is file storage. Simply put, file storage provides one centralized location for your enterprise to store data. It uses metadata and directories to organize files, which makes it an easy-to-understand solution for those looking to store large data sets. It’s also an excellent solution for companies looking for cloud-based file sharing.

The hierarchical nature of file storage renders it very similar to its real-life counterpart, the filing cabinet. Within a filing cabinet, you have specific drawers, and within those drawers, you have particular folders. To quickly locate your file (data), you would first need to be made aware of which drawer and which folder within said drawer you need to look for. The drawback is that the more data you add, the more tedious it becomes to sift through each individual drawer and folder.

Many applications need to access and share the same files, making file storage the natural choice. This specific type of storage is often supported by a Network Attached Storage (NAS) server. When it comes to AWS, solutions such as the Amazon Elastic File System (EFS) are ideal for large content repositories, media stores, or directories.

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