File-level, Block level and Object Level storage virtualization

File, Block, and Object Level Storage: In this tutorial, we will learn about the three key storage virtualizations i.e., File level, Block level, and Object Level storage in a cloud environment. By IncludeHelp Last updated : June 04, 2023

1) File Level Storage

File-level storage or file storage is a mechanism of technology used on hard drives, Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems, and similar storage systems are. File-level storage differs from block-level storage in that the storage system can access and handle individual files and folders, while the smaller storage blocks that make up the files and folders cannot be directly managed.

File-level storage or file storage is the storage that is typically deployed in Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems that are used for unstructured data. It uses Linux's Network File System (NFS) and Windows' Common Internet File System (CIFS) or Server Message Block (SMB) protocols. It is easy to implement and use file-level storage, and it is often less costly to maintain than block-level storage, which are important reasons for its success in terms of use on personal computers and in narrower business systems. NAS devices offer a lot of space at what is typically a lower cost than storage at the block level.

Usually, file-level storage can be accessed using standard file-level protocols such as SMB/CIFS (Windows) and NFSS (Linux, VMware). We need to create a volume, deploy an OS, and then connect to the created volume in the block level environment; in the file level world, the files and directories on the device are managed by the storage device. This also means that the file level storage system or NAS has to manage user access control and the assignment of permissions in certain instances. Some devices may be integrated into existing systems of authentication and security.

File Storage Architecture

In comparison to block storage, file storage stores information in a hierarchical architecture; as such, the data and its metadata are stored in the form of files and directories. Consequently, the stored data appears to systems in two forms; the one who writes it and the one who reads it.

File Level Storage Scalability

Besides, the storage of files is dually scalable, which means it can scale up and scale-out.

As with block storage, scale-up is essentially the expansion of the space for file storage. This can be achieved by linking external storage arrays to on-site file systems or by adding additional storage capacity to the storage of virtual or cloud files.

For Eg, if a file storage system has one node, then the efficiency will increase to 2x by adding another, and the storage capacity will also increase proportionately. Similarly, the output and storage will increase to 3x if another node is added, and so on.

File Storage System Cost/Costs

File storage systems are usually less expensive than block storage in terms of cost. This, however, depends heavily on the vendor chosen, requirements, features, storage operating system (OS) cost, and many other variables.

Use-Cases of File Storage

  • Shared storage location, accessible via local area network (LAN) for multiple user groups, departments, and teams; usually configured with a single global namespace spanning across multiple scale-out nodes.
  • Local data archiving, preservation, and compliance storage systems.

2) Block Level Storage

Block-level storage, or block storage, is a storage that is typically implemented in Storage Area Network (SAN) networks used for structured data. It utilizes protocols for the Internet Small Computer Systems Interface (SCSI) and Fiber Channel (FC). Block-level storage is commonly implemented in storage area networks (SANs) and related to large-scale storage systems for larger organizations and businesses. Each block can be handled as an individual hard drive with block-level storage, and the blocks are usually managed by a server-based operating system.

Block storage allows the greater quality of storage (more effective use of usable hardware for storage) and higher performance than the storage of data. Block storage splits a file into chunks of data of similar size (or blocks) and separately stores each block under a unique address.

Blocks can be stored anywhere in the system, rather than conforming to a static directory/subdirectory/folder structure. The operating system of the server uses the unique address to bring the blocks back together into the file to access every file, which takes less time to access a file than navigating through folders and file hierarchies. For critical business applications, transaction databases, and virtualized system that require low latency, block storage works well (minimal delay). It also provides us with more granular knowledge access and reliable results.

Block Storage Architecture

Block storage utilizes blocks to store organized workloads, which are a fixed sequence of bytes. A unique hash value that functions as an address is assigned to each block. The data is stored in block storage without any metadata, such as data format, type, ownership, etc.

The ability to store data in blocks allows organized workloads the freedom to determine how blocks are accessed, combined, or changed, such as databases, applications, etc. Consequently, this makes the storage of blocks quicker than other stores.

Block Storage Scalability

Block storage devices will scale up, so we can opt to start with only a few terabytes of storage space and upgrade it as we go to the petabyte-scale. However, efficiency can be difficult to improve. Typical block storage systems, or SAN systems, do not promote performance enhancement, and the go-to solution is a forklift upgrade to add more performance.

Block Storage Cost

They appear to be more costly than file storage systems because block storage is designed to allow larger workloads and boost Input/output Operations per Second (IOPS). This, however, depends heavily on the vendor chosen, requirements, features, storage operating system (OS) cost, and many other variables.

Use-Cases of Block Storage

  • Storage for standard hypervisors in the industry, such as VMware, Microsoft Hyper-V, KVM, Citrix (formerly XenServer).
  • Email servers running programs like Microsoft Exchange.

3) Object Level Storage

Unstructured data and web content such as email, images, image files, web pages, and sensor data created by the Internet of Things have emerged as a preferred technique for data archiving and backing up today's digital communications. It is also suitable for data archiving that does not change regularly (static files), such as large amounts of music, image, and video files or pharmaceutical data.

Cloud object storage is a storage format for cloud storage of unstructured data. The storage of objects is considered to be a good match for the cloud because it is elastic, scalable, and can scale into several petabytes more easily to support unlimited data development. In contrast to block storage, which handles data as blocks, and logical volumes and file storage that stores information in hierarchical directories, the architecture stores and manages data as objects.

Objects are distinct units of information that are processed in an environment of structurally flat data. Again, no files, directories, or complex hierarchies are available; instead, each object is a plain, self-contained repository containing data, metadata (object-related descriptive information), and a unique identifying ID number. This knowledge allows the object to be found and accessed by an application.

A globally unique identifier for an object along with rich, customizable metadata is included in the design of the object storage program. Metadata is segregated to allow for additional features such as application-specific and user-specific indexing data, application-directly programmable interfaces, a global namespace, and more flexible data management policies.

Reference: File Storage

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