Block storage and object storage are two common ways of storing data. Each one has its unique advantages, drawbacks, and use cases. We’ll take a deeper look at the differences between block storage and object storage, as well as alternatives that provide many of the benefits of these storage methods, without the disadvantages.
The amount of data created, captured, copied, and consumed worldwide has been increasing significantly year after year and is set to hit 181 zettabytes by 2025.
With all this data, enterprises today have many different needs when it comes to storing and accessing their information – and therefore different storage solutions to cater to each use case. Two of the most common methods are block storage and object storage.
Block Storage and Object Storage Definition
In order to understand the differences between block storage and object storage, it’s important to first define these concepts.
Block storage assigns a unique address to data that is divided into fixed-sized blocks. It operates at a low level, directly interacting with the operating system, and is commonly used for structured data. Block storage provides high-performance, random read/write access, making it ideal for applications like databases and virtual machines (VMs). It offers flexibility in formatting and organizing data, though it requires more management and configuration compared to other storage options.
Object storage is a storage approach that treats data as objects and organizes them into a flat address space. Each object is assigned a unique identifier and stored with its associated metadata. Object storage is commonly used for unstructured data such as multimedia files, documents, and backups. Object storage provides scalability, durability, and high availability, making it ideal for cloud storage and archiving.
There are several key differences between block storage and object storage. These are summarized below:
|Capability||Block Storage||Object Storage|
|Data Storage||Divides data into fixed-sized blocks||Stores data as objects|
|Access Method||Directly accessed by the operating system||Accessed via RESTful APIs|
|Use Case||Structured data (databases, virtual machines)||Unstructured data (images, videos, documents)|
|Performance||High-performance, low-latency||Slightly lower performance compared to block storage|
|Scalability||Limited scalability||Highly scalable and elastic|
|Management||Requires more management and configuration||Simplified management and automatic scalability|
|Addressing||Addressed by block-level addresses||Addressed by unique object identifiers|
|Flexibility||Offers flexibility in data organization||Offers simplicity and flat address space|
Main advantages of Block Storage and Object Storage
Each storage method has its own advantages.
Main advantages of object storage
- Scalability: Object storage offers virtually limitless scalability, allowing for the storage of massive amounts of data without impacting performance.
- Durability: Such systems typically provide high durability, ensuring that data remains intact even in the event of hardware failures or data corruption.
- Accessibility: Objects stored in object storage can be accessed from anywhere using standard protocols like HTTP/HTTPS, making it easy to retrieve data from different locations.
- Metadata and metadata search: Object storage enables the attachment of metadata to objects, providing additional information and context. This metadata can be used for efficient search and indexing of objects.
- Cost-effectiveness: this method is often more cost-effective than block storage, with pricing models based on the amount of stored data and offering competitive storage costs compared to other storage solutions.
- Data redundancy: Object storage systems often include built-in redundancy mechanisms, automatically replicating data across multiple locations or nodes to enhance data protection and availability.
- Integration with cloud services: Object storage is commonly integrated with cloud platforms and services, making it a popular choice for cloud-based applications and workflows.
These advantages make object storage a compelling option for organizations that require scalable, durable, and cost-effective storage solutions for their growing data needs.
Main advantages of block storage
- High performance: Block storage provides fast and efficient access to data, making it preferable for applications that require low-latency and high-performance operations.
- Flexibility: It allows for greater flexibility in data organization and formatting, enabling users to structure and manage data according to their specific requirements.
- Compatibility: Block storage is compatible with a wide range of operating systems and applications, making it a versatile storage solution.
- Random read/write access: This system of storage offers random read/write access to data, making it ideal for applications that require frequent and quick data manipulation.
- Granular control: With block storage, users have more control over individual blocks of data, allowing for precise management and manipulation at the block level.
- Widely supported: Block storage is supported by a wide range of hardware and software systems, ensuring compatibility and ease of implementation.
These advantages make block storage a preferred choice for applications that demand high performance, low-latency data access, and compatibility with existing infrastructure.
How to choose between block storage and object storage?
This depends on your needs. As noted previously, object storage is ideal for use cases involving large-scale data storage, as well as unstructured data, and cloud-based applications.
Object Storage Use Cases
- Storage in the cloud: This type of storage is used in cloud storage platforms, enabling companies to store and retrieve large amounts of data in a way that’s both scalable and cost-effective.
- Data archiving and backup: It provides a reliable solution for long-term data archiving and backup, ensuring data integrity and availability over extended periods.
- Media and entertainment: These industries often need to store and manage large multimedia files, including videos, images, and audio recordings – making it an ideal candidate for object storage.
- Content distribution: This storage method enables the efficient distribution of content, for the fast and easy delivery of files to end-users across multiple locations.
- Internet of Things (IoT): These devices produce large amounts of unstructured data, making object storage a great way to store and retrieve this data.
Block Storage Use Cases
Block storage is used when high-performance, low-latency data access is required. Some of the main use cases for block storage include:
- Databases and Database Management Systems: Block storage is commonly used for database storage, allowing for fast and direct access to structured data and supporting high-performance database operations.
- Virtualization: Block storage provides the underlying storage infrastructure for virtual machines (VMs) in virtualized environments, ensuring efficient data access and data integrity for VMs.
- High-Performance Computing (HPC): This storage type is essential in HPC environments, where fast and parallel access to data is crucial.
- Transactional systems: Block storage is well-suited to transactional systems that require rapid read/write access, such as financial systems, e-commerce platforms, and real-time data processing applications.
- Enterprise applications: Many enterprise applications, including ERP systems, CRM systems, and collaboration tools, rely on block storage to store and retrieve structured data efficiently.
These use cases demonstrate the diverse applications of object storage and block storage, each catering to specific requirements and providing unique advantages in terms of data access, scalability, and performance.
Object Storage vs. Network-Attached Storage (NAS) Comparison
Network-Attached Storage (NAS) is a dedicated storage system that provides file-level access to data over a computer network. It operates as an independent device connected to the network, allowing multiple clients or users to access and share files concurrently. NAS simplifies data storage and retrieval by centralizing storage resources and providing a file system interface that enables easy file management, access control, and data sharing.
How does NAS compare to object storage?
|Capability||Object Storage||Network-Attached Storage (NAS)|
|Data Structure||Stores data as objects with metadata||Organizes data in hierarchical file/folder structure|
|Access Method||Accessed via RESTful APIs||Accessed through network protocols (NFS, SMB)|
|Scalability||Highly scalable and elastic||Limited scalability based on hardware limitations|
|Data Management||Automated and self-managed||Requires manual management and configuration|
|Data Retrieval||Optimized for large-scale data access||Optimized for traditional file-based access|
|Data Security||Provides built-in redundancy||Relies on RAID configurations and backups|
|Use Cases||Unstructured data, cloud storage||File sharing, file serving, centralized storage|
|Performance||Slightly lower performance||Higher performance for latency-sensitive workloads|
|Cost||Cost-effective for massive data sets||Generally more expensive, especially for large scale|
|File Locking||Not applicable||Supports file locking and concurrent access|
Many organizations have been replacing their NAS with CTERA, thanks to CTERA’s offering of infinite capacity, it’s enabling of modern collaboration tools, secure multi-cloud capabilities, and up to 80% reduction in costs.
CTERA File Services for Object Storage Solutions
With the increasing use of machine learning and AI – not to mention new sources of data – organizations today face ever-growing data storage needs for unstructured data, including ways to manage and analyze their data assets.
This becomes an even greater challenge when the data is distributed, leading to the need for a distributed file system. Ideally, many companies would want the convenience and performance of a traditional file system, together with the scalability and cost savings associated with object storage.
CTERA file services for object storage offer the best of both worlds: it enables traditional file system-based applications and workloads to work with object storage, allowing enterprises to reap the benefits of object storage without the limitations.
The CTERA Edge Filer exposes the file server interface (e.g. SMB and NFS protocols), acting as a replacement for the existing file server. With CTERA’s object storage solutions, applications don’t need to be rewritten – and users still have access to a hierarchical file structure and Microsoft-compatible NT ACL permissions.
The Edge Filer caches files locally for fast user access, and syncs files across multiple sites; while the bulk of the data is kept in low-cost object storage, either on-prem or in the cloud.
Advantages of CTERA’s solution include:
- Infinite scalability
- Enhanced data visibility and insights
- Reduced storage costs (up to 80%)
- End-to-end data security
- Global data management and control
To learn more, set up a call with a CTERA product expert here.
In summary, block storage and object storage each have their own unique advantages and disadvantages, and each is appropriate for different use cases.
We looked at definitions, use cases, the differences between block storage and object storage, object storage versus NAS, and CTERA’s File Services for Object Storage.
Enterprises looking for a scalable, secure, cost-effective storage solution need look no further than CTERA.
Can block storage and object storage be used together?
In short: yes, block storage and object storage can be used together in a complementary manner to address different storage requirements. By leveraging both block storage and object storage, organizations can optimize their storage infrastructure.
What are the security considerations for block storage and object storage?
For block storage, it’s important to implement strong access controls and authentication mechanisms to prevent unauthorized access to the storage devices. Encryption of data at rest and in transit is essential to safeguard sensitive information.
For object storage, similar security measures should be implemented, including access controls, authentication, and encryption. Object storage often provides the option to define access policies based on metadata associated with each object, ensuring that only authorized users or systems can access specific data. Object storage solutions also typically include built-in redundancy and data durability mechanisms to protect against data loss. Regular backups and data integrity checks should be performed to maintain the integrity of the stored objects.
Are there any industry-specific use cases for block storage and object storage?
Both block storage and object storage have uses across verticals and industries. To generalize, however, block storage is commonly utilized in industries such as finance, healthcare, and e-commerce, where low-latency access to structured data is critical. Object storage finds extensive use in industries dealing with large-scale unstructured data, such as media and entertainment, cloud service providers, and data archiving.
Can I convert block storage to object storage or vice versa?
Converting block storage to object storage or vice versa is not a straightforward process, as they are fundamentally different storage architectures. Conversion typically requires data migration and transformation.