Block Storage vs. File Storage: What Are They and Why Should You Care?

Block Storage vs. File Storage: What Are They and Why Should You Care?The storage landscape can seem overwhelming, especially with the advent of the cloud. But in fact, organizations today have two main options when it comes to storing, backing up data, and archiving information: block storage and file storage.

Which type of storage is right for your business? That depends on the types of information you’re storing, your need for quick and frequent accessibility, and any regulatory or compliance requirements, said Scott Lowe, writing at TechRepublic.

Block level storage is unbeatable when it comes to flexibility and versatility, Lowe says, since it can be used for almost any kind of application: file storage, database information storage, virtual machine file storage (VMFS), and more. Block storage is also the best choice if you need blazing fast performance when accessing your data.

“If you’re looking for storage that screams — that is, if you need high levels of storage performance — you should look at the block level options. Block level devices are generally configurable for capacity and performance,” Lowe said.

This option is great for your business if you’re looking to store and need frequent access to your files, information from databases, or need to restore your virtual machines in the event of a crash. And, Lowe said, block storage is easy to acquire and configure, since it presents itself to servers in the same way as a standard hard drive – albeit one that’s installed in a remote chassis and accessible via fibre channel or iSCSI connectivity.

“Remember, when you use a block-based volume, you’re basically using a blank hard drive with which you can do anything,” Lowe said. “With this type of storage, it’s not unusual for an organization to be able to use operating system-native backup tools or third-party backup tools … to back up files. Since the storage looks and acts like a normal hard drive, special backup steps don’t need to be taken,” he said.

If it’s simplicity and large capacity you’re looking for, then file-level storage may be a better option for your business. The flexibility of block storage does come with a price – increased management complexity. But, for ease of use, and if you’re just looking for a simple repository for your data, file storage is the best option for your business, he said.

The major benefit of file-level storage is its huge capacity capabilities, Lowe said. When your users need a place to store files, or if you need a large volume to store virtual machine data, then file storage is a great choice, he said.

And file-level storage is often much cheaper to procure than block storage. In addition, with file storage, the physical storage device handles the management and organization of your data, as well as user access and permissions. One of the major drawbacks to note, Lowe said, is that some file-level storage devices use a proprietary operating system, so it’s important to ensure these are compatible with your existing infrastructure. Of course, with a cloud-based solution, your third-party provider will handle the compatibility issues, if any arise, but it’s still a good idea to check.

There’s a third option, Lowe said, which is a hybrid model combining both block and file storage solutions. Some up-and-coming devices include both file and block capabilities, and can be a perfect middle-of-the-road choice if your business needs the large capacity of file storage and the high-performance speeds of block storage.

Armed with the knowledge of these types of storage solutions and the needs of your business will help you choose the best type of storage for your business.

Sharon Florentine is a freelance writer who covers everything from holistic veterinary care to data center technology and occasionally blogs for cloud provider Rackspace Hosting.