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What is Block Storage? – An Introduction

What is Block Storage? – An Introduction

If you have used any server-based storage before, you’ve likely used block storage. Block storage is one of the most common data storage methods available and is ideal for larger files or high-performance programs.

What is Block Storage?

Block storage is a method of storing files on enterprise devices that involves breaking a file into small data blocks. It’s different from regular file storage because of how the server retrieves data. 

In standard file storage, when a user requests data, they request a single file.  Unfortunately, sometimes those files are pretty large, which can cause lag time or latency problems. The easiest way to address the latency issues is to break the files into smaller pieces that can reconnect upon retrieval.

Block storage does precisely that. It separates files into chunks called blocks, each of which has an identifier that the system can recognize as part of a larger file. The blocks are small, so when a user requests data, those blocks can be retrieved more quickly and reassembled by the program used to retrieve them. Think of it like transporting brick walls: a single person wouldn’t be able to lift the entire finished wall into place with any sort of ease or efficiency, but moving the structure a few bricks at a time makes the process much quicker more accessible. 

Block storage is ideal for large files or files with many parts because it allows for quicker, easier access to those files. It’s an excellent option for operating systems, apps, and virtual machines and is ideal for database management and transactions. Because of its advantages, it is an everyday staple in tech-based industries, where it’s often combined with CNCF projects like these.

Like any technological system, it has a few advantages and disadvantages. 

Pros of Block Storage

  • Ideal for fast performance on local servers
  • Allows for quick retrieval of files
  • A good option for centralizing data
  • Old standard

Cons of Block Storage

  • Costlier than other storage solutions
  • Limited metadata capabilities
  • Limited in size

It’s up to individual server managers to determine the best fetching system for their solutions, but block storage is a strong contender for fast data retrieval. 

When is Block Storage Most Beneficial?

If you keep all of your data in one place, block storage can be a great solution to file retrieval. For example, suppose your company relies heavily on databases. In that case, block storage can make it easier to retrieve data, run reports, and do other administrative tasks. 

However, if you keep your data on external servers, block storage can often cause latency issues. In addition, if you need your software to have superior metadata capabilities, block storage may not be the best option. Instead, object storage might be what you need.

Are There Other Storage Options?

In addition to block storage, there are two other storage methods for enterprise storage: object and file.

Object Storage

Object storage is similar to block storage in that the files are broken into smaller pieces. Object storage files are broken into data, metadata, and an identifier. The complex nature of the metadata is part of what makes object storage so distinct from block storage. 

Where block storage splits data into chunks with little other identifying information, object storage holds information in clumps–the eponymous objects–that can hold any amount of data as well as metadata describing what the object contains. 

Unlike block storage, object storage doesn’t typically allow users to edit one piece of data contained within an object. Instead, users wishing to edit metadata would have to download, rewrite, and reupload the entire object. If you don’t plan to edit much of your data, that might be fine, but it can create a significant stopgap if you’re constantly draining processing power every time you want to edit an expense report or training manual. 

Object storage is best for solving the problems that arise from massive amounts of data that need enhanced availability, while block storage prioritizes speed and performance on a smaller (but still enterprise-worthy) scale. 

File Storage 

File storage is a hierarchical type of storage that organizes data into files, folders, and directories. To access the file, you need to know the path from the directory to the file itself.

While file storage is perfectly fine for most personal use computer systems, it creates real problems when scaled to the size of a large organization. When you’re dealing with an entire network of computers, it’s unrealistic to hunt through the entire directory every time a user needs a file. This scavenger hunting issue is what both object storage and block storage aim to solve, block storage with its unique address and object storage with its unique identifiers and metadata. 

Parting Words

Using a CNCF project to bring efficient block storage to the cloud can make it convenient and easy to deploy a highly available persistent block storage solution. If your company has been looking into new storage solutions, block storage could be just what you need. 

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