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What Is Block Storage?

Block storage is a type of data storage that uses raw storage volumes called “blocks” to store data. Commonly used in SAN, iSCSI, and local disk environments, each of these blocks can function as a stand-alone hard drive.

A block file is a type of file that is stored in blocks. Companies usually use block files when they require speedy, accurate, and efficient data transfer, such as when retrieving information from a database. Operating systems such as Linux and Windows can access the blocks via Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), Fibre Channel, or iSCSI protocols.

How Does Block Storage Work?

With block storage, each block contains a specific amount of data, typically 256KB to 4MB. Each block represents a portion of a file that isn’t organized in any specific hierarchical order. In fact, the data on blocks sitting beside neighboring blocks may be completely unrelated to each other.

Each block has its own unique identifier to differentiate it from other blocks. When a file needs to be retrieved, an application will send a request, and the blocks will be located and assembled.

Besides the identifier, the blocks don’t contain any metadata. Because of the lack of metadata, block storage is very efficient since almost all the block’s storage capacity stores the actual data. There’s no wasted space. This makes block storage ideal for workloads that require rapid scale-up and fast read/write performance.

Examples of Block Storage

Directly used by an operating system and available as volumes, block storage can carry out a wide range of tasks. In fact, block storage is the most popular type of storage for most applications.

Some popular use cases for block storage include:

  • Database storage: A database typically contains many tables, which are themselves collections of data. Using block files to store this data is ideal since they allow for fast data access. Since speed is critical for a database, organizing the data into blocks is the best solution.
  • Disaster recovery: In the event of a disaster, it’s often necessary to restore data from backups. Organizations often use block storage to create block-level backups of data. This allows the data to be restored quickly and easily, with no time-consuming restoration of individual files.
  • Mission-critical applications: Mission-critical applications, such as Oracle, Microsoft Exchange, SAP, and Microsoft SharePoint, require high availability and reliability. Using block storage can help ensure that these applications are always available because of block storage’s fast read/write performance.

Three Advantages of Block Storage

Like any technology, block storage has its pros and cons. That said, the advantages of block storage are clear: It's best suited for high performance and fast data access.

Here are three key benefits of using block storage:

  • Increased performance: Block storage can typically achieve higher performance than other forms of storage because users can access the data quickly. Reducing the latency or response time of your applications is a critical aspect of ensuring that they live up to their performance objectives.
  • Ability to make incremental changes: With block storage, it’s possible to change a file without having to remove all the current data as you would with a traditional file system. For example, you can make changes by replacing, deleting, or inserting blocks. This makes it ideal for frequently updated files, such as those used in databases.
  • Increased reliability: Block storage can help ensure that critical applications are always available. In the event of a failure, organizations can quickly and easily restore data from backup media.

Three Disadvantages of Block Storage

Of course, block storage also has its drawbacks. There's no denying that it can be more expensive than other forms of storage and it may not be the best solution for all workloads.

Some disadvantages of block storage include:

  • Higher cost: Block storage can be more expensive than other forms of storage. For example, SANs can be expensive to purchase and maintain.
  • Increased complexity: Block storage can be more complex to administer than other forms of storage. For example, it may require additional training and/or experience to manage it effectively.
  • Limited metadata: Unlike other forms of storage, block storage supports limited metadata. This can make it difficult to track and search the data stored in a block storage system.

Block vs. File vs. Object Storage: What’s the Difference?

The three most common types of data storage solutions are block, file, and object. They each have their own unique features and limitations, which means an enterprise-wide system can’t be "one size fits all."

Some of the major distinctions between block, file, and object storage are as follows:

  • Block storage systems are used to store larger files that are accessed randomly. This includes databases, application logs, and other data that aren’t stored in a file system.
  • File storage systems are used to store files that are typically accessed sequentially. This includes user data, program files, and system files. File systems are also used to store logs and other transient data.
  • Object storage systems are used to store large amounts of unstructured data that are accessed randomly. This includes video, audio, and image files, as well as database backups and archives.

How Pure Storage Can Help

It's no secret that data is becoming more and more important by the day, but traditional storage solutions can no longer keep up. Not only are they slow and unreliable, but they also can be expensive.

Pure Storage offers a better way. Our all-flash block storage products, such as FlashArray//C, FlashArray//X, and FlashArray//XL are designed for performance, simplicity, and reliability.

An all-flash array (AFA) contains only flash memory drives in place of spinning disk drives and offers:

  • Speed: sQuicker memory read/write and access times deliver improved performance and speed.
  • Portability: As solid-state drives (SSDs) are remarkably smaller than more traditional hard-disk drives (HDDs), flash memory has a space-per-capacity advantage.
  • Durability: SSDs are less vulnerable to shocks and drops than spinning disk drives.

To learn more about how Pure Storage can help you get the most out of your block storage, contact us today

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