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The Differences Between Cold, Warm, and Hot Storage

*Updated November 2023

Hot Storage vs Cold Storage: Choosing the Right Tier for Your Data

The cloud has changed the way we think about data storage. No longer are we limited by the physical space in our office or data center. But with this newfound freedom comes some challenges. How do we decide what data to store where? How do we keep track of it all? These are important questions to answer as we move more and more data to the cloud. One way to think about it is in terms of hot, warm, and cold storage.

Hot storage

Hot storage is data that is accessed frequently. This could be data that is being actively used by employees or customers. It needs to be stored on fast storage so that it can be accessed quickly.

The Benefits of Hot Storage

  • Low latency: Hot storage is optimized for low-latency access, making it ideal for applications and data that require rapid response times.
  • Scalability: Hot storage services often offer easy scalability to accommodate data growth or changing usage patterns.
  • Data access speed: Hot storage is designed for frequent read and write operations, making it appropriate for data that requires rapid access.

Hot storage vs cold storage

The differences between hot storage and cold storage include:

  • Access speed and latency: while hot storage is optimized for fast access and low-latency retrieval, cold storage is optimized for infrequent access and long-term retention
  • Cost: Generally speaking, hot storage is more expensive than cold storage due to its prioritization of performance and availability. Cold storage is less expensive, but retrieval fees may apply.

Warm storage

Warm storage is data that is accessed less frequently. This could be data that is used for reporting or analytics. It doesn’t need to be accessed as quickly as hot data, so it can be stored on slightly slower, capacity-optimized storage.

The benefits of warm storage

The primary benefit of warm storage is its versatility. It strikes a balance between cost and performance, and has multiple use cases, 

Warm storage vs cold storage

Warm storage provides faster retrieval time than cold storage, although it is usually slightly more expensive.

Cold storage

Cold storage is data that is rarely accessed. This could be data that is archived for compliance reasons. It can be stored on even slower, “cheap and deep” storage.

When deciding what data to store where, it’s important to consider the access patterns. Hot data needs to be stored on fast storage, for instance, a solid state disk (SSD). Warm data can be stored on slower storage, for example hard drives, and cold data can be stored on the cheapest storage, one that may incur some retrieval costs – for instance, an inexpensive object storage service.

Modern data management systems allow you to optimize the placement of your data so that hot data is stored on fast storage, warm data is stored on slower storage, and cold data is stored on your “cheap and deep” storage tier. This way, you can get the performance you need for hot data while still minimizing storage costs.

What are the benefits of cold data storage?

Benefits of cold data storage include:

  • Cost effectiveness: One of the primary advantages of cold storage is its cost-effectiveness. It typically has the lowest storage costs among storage tiers.
  • Long-term data retention: Cold storage is ideal for data that needs to be retained for extended periods, ranging from months to many years. It’s commonly used for storing historical records, compliance data, legal documents, and archives where data preservation is a priority.
  • Data security and durability: Cold storage solutions often come with robust data security features, including encryption, access controls, and redundancy to ensure data durability and safety over time.
  • Reduced retrieval costs: While the retrieval times from cold storage may be longer compared to other storage tiers, the cost of retrieval is often significantly lower than hot or warm storage. 
  • Scalability: Cold storage solutions typically offer scalability, allowing organizations to expand their data storage capacity as their archival needs grow. 
  • Backup and disaster recovery: Cold storage is commonly used for long-term backup and disaster recovery purposes. 
  • Cost predictability: Cold storage usually offers predictable and stable pricing.
  • Data compliance: Many industries and organizations have compliance requirements that mandate data retention for specific time periods and other similar conditions – cold storage can help meet these compliance requirements.

Traditional Views of Cold and Hot Data Storage


Placement Approaches Used By Data Management Systems


Tiering refers to having a lifecycle that moves each data object (or file) to the most appropriate storage tier based on its access frequency. For example, new files may be created in the hot storage tier, and if the system determines that they were not accessed for some period, the files are moved to a warm storage tier, and if they are still not accessed for a long time, they are eventually moved to a cold storage tier.


Cloud Caching is quite different from tiering. Unlike tiering which moves your data between the storage tiers, in caching the gold copy of all your data resides in an inexpensive storage tier such as object storage. To provide decent access speeds, the system keeps a cache of frequently accessed files in a fast storage tier. In other words, caching does not move data across tiers – it keeps copies of some of the data in fast storage to provide quick access.

Data Storage with CTERA

CTERA enables enterprises to benefit from all the advantages of the different storage types, providing a solution that addresses organizations’ key business needs while combining speed, availability, and cost effectiveness. 

With its cloud-centric caching approach, CTERA’s capacity and compute bursting solution enables companies to seamlessly expand or contract their storage and compute capacity. The solution includes:

  • Capacity bursting: Access unlimited storage capacity at edge locations by keeping frequently accessed data in a local high-performance cache while offloading infrequently accessed data to cloud storage.
  • Compute bursting: Get all the high-performance compute capabilities of the cloud even when processing locally created data.
  • When use cases demand high performance: When local teams need bursts of high-performance – for example when media rendering, applying visual effects, or for analytics purposes – they can work on live data while utilizing on-demand cloud instances for computational tasks.
  • Storage cost reduction: Cut storage costs by up to 80%; combine traditional file infrastructure with low-cost cloud object storage.
  • Lighting-fast access: While frequently used files are cached locally, file changes are continuously replicated to the “gold copy” in the cloud.
  • Maximum visibility: View a consolidated picture of data in multiple clouds and edge locations.
Learn more about the benefits of Cloud Bursting from CTERA

Conclusion: How You Store Your Data Has a Massive Business Impact

By getting smart about how you store different types of data, you can simultaneously boost performance, decrease storage costs, increase access speeds, improve security, and guarantee compliance.

CTERA’s Cloud and Compute Bursting solution allows you to achieve all of these, and more.

Get in touch with a CTERA expert to understand how you can implement this powerful solution and access these benefits.

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