Data Storage Defined
WHAT IS DATA STORAGE?
Data storage is a general term for archiving data in electromagnetic or other forms for use by a computer or device. Different types of data storage play different roles in a computing environment. In addition to forms of hard data storage, there are now new options for remote data storage, such as cloud computing, that can revolutionize the ways that users access data.
The use of recording media to retain data using computers or other devices. The most prevalent forms of data storage are file storage, block storage, and object storage, with each being ideal for different purposes.
Types of data storage
File storage: Inexpensive and simply constructed, data is stored in files and folders. This is commonly found on hard drives and means that the files look exactly the same to the hard drive as they do to the user.
Block storage: Data is stored in evenly-sized blocks. Although more expensive and complex and less scalable, block storage is ideal for data that must be frequently accessed and edited.
Object storage: Data is stored as objects with metadata and unique identifiers. Although it is generally less expensive to store data this way, object storage is only ideal for data that doesn’t need to be edited.
One common distinction between forms of physical data storage is between random access memory (RAM) and associated formats, and secondary on external drives. Random access memory is stored in integrated circuits for immediate use, while the data stored on hard drives, disks, flash drives and new solid state data storage units is archived for event-based access or research activities initiated by an end user.
New technologies and tech theory promote the continual expansion of data storage capability. New solid state drives can hold enormous amounts of data in a very small device, enabling various kinds of new applications for many industries, as well as consumer uses. Cloud services and other new forms of remote storage also add to the capacity of devices and their ability to access more data without building additional storage into a device.
What is software-defined storage?
Software-defined storage (SDS) is part virtualization software and part storage management software: It abstracts the bits and bytes of data contained with hardware, formats the data into block, object, or file format, and organizes the data for network use.
SDS works particularly well with workloads based on unstructured data (like the object and block storage systems that containers and micro-services rely upon), since it can scale in ways that hardwired storage solutions can’t.
It’s easier to understand SDS by comparing it to traditional appliance-based storage. Appliance storage bundles software and hardware together, but SDS decouples software from hardware and works with any industry-stand server or x86 virtualized resource. This eliminates reliance on specific hardware vendors and provides enterprises with a far more accommodating purchase process, where hardware is only purchased when more capacity is needed.
What is cloud storage?
When a physical resource like storage is virtualized and orchestrated by management and automation software, it becomes cloud storage. There are nuances to this description (the resource has to be made available on-demand through self-service portals supported by automatic scaling and dynamic resource allocation) but virtualization, management, and automation are the 3 foundational elements of any cloud resource—storage included.
Cloud storage is useful because it’s not always easy to estimate how much storage your enterprise needs, and buying massive amounts of capacity upfront is wasteful.
When storage is turned into a cloud resource, you can add or remove drives, repurpose hardware, and respond to changes without manually provisioning separate storage servers for every new initiative.
If your systems are designed using software-defined storage, you don’t have to spend time rewriting applications and port them to support a specific cloud’s storage services.
What is network-attached storage?
Network-attached storage (NAS) is a storage architecture that makes data more accessible among a network. A stripped-down operating system is installed on a box of hardware that’s no more complex than an ordinary server—hard drives, processors, random-access memory, and all.
This box (know as a NAS box, NAS server, NAS head, or NAS unit) becomes responsible for the entire network’s storage, organization, and sharing functions.
Facilitated by transfer protocols that allow data to be shared among devices, NAS processes the entire network’s storage requests; giving an enterprise better performance, accessibility, and fault tolerance in 1 easy-to-install solution.
What is object storage?
An object is a piece of data paired with any associated metadata that provides context about the bytes contained within the object (things like how old or big the data is). Those 2 things—the data and metadata together—make an object.
The data stored in objects is uncompressed and unencrypted, and the objects themselves are arranged in object stores (a central repository filled with many other objects) or containers (a package that contains all of the files an application needs to run).
Objects, object stores, and containers are very flat in nature—compared to the hierarchical structure of file storage systems—which allow them to be accessed very quickly at huge scale.
Object storage and containers go hand-in-hand: Containers migrate from bare-metal environments to virtual machines and private clouds to public clouds far too often for most storage systems to keep up.
Traditional storage is difficult to port and file storage becomes onerous to navigate at the petabyte level, but objects contain just enough information for an application to find quickly and are free enough to store unstructured data like images and text files.
What is file storage?
File storage is the dominant technology used on direct- and networked-attached storage systems. It takes care of 2 things: organizing data and representing it to us.
With file storage, data is arranged on the server side in the exact same format we clients see it. This allows us to request a file by some unique identifier—like a name, location, or URL—which is communicated to the storage system using specific data transfer protocols. The result is a type of hierarchical file structure we can navigate from top to bottom.
File storage is layered on top of block storage, allowing us to see and access data as files and folders, but restricting access to the blocks that stand those files and folders up.
What is block storage?
Block storage splits a single storage volume (like a virtual or cloud storage node, or a good old fashioned hard disk) into individual instances known as blocks.
Each block exists independently of another and can be formatted with its own data transfer protocol and operating system—giving you complete configuration autonomy.
Because block storage systems aren’t burdened with the same investigative file-finding duties as the file storage systems that rely on blocks, block storage is a faster storage system. Pair that speed with their configuration flexibility and it makes them ideal for raw server storage or rich media databases.