Because today’s businesses run on data, finding reliable, efficient ways to store that information is a major priority for every organization. When it comes to types of storage, there is a wide variety of choices for every size of business and budget. So many choices can make it difficult to decide which types of data storage are ideal for your organization’s needs.
Let’s take a closer look at what data storage is and highlight the main types of data storage solutions and devices.
What is data storage?
Every piece of information you gather in your business is potentially important. Whether it’s a database of customer accounts and their purchase histories, human resources records for every employee, financial information such as payroll or accounts receivable, or intellectual property such as specifications for your products, that information needs to be stored somewhere so you can access it as needed to operate your business.
Today, most businesses store that information digitally on computers. The days of endless file cabinets and paper file folders are swiftly disappearing as modern organizations work toward digital transformation.
Gartner® Recognizes Nutanix as a Visionary in the Magic Quadrant™ for Distributed File Systems and Object Storage in 2022
Forms of data storage
There are three types of data storage:
Also referred to as file-level or file-based storage, this type is presented as files that are stored in folders and subfolders in a directory. If you’ve used a PC and saved a document to the hard drive, for instance, you have experienced file storage. Files are accessible through a path that users must know. File storage is the most common type of storage on computer hard drives and network-attached storage (NAS) devices.
Rather than storing data in a complete file, block storage breaks apart data and stores it in blocks that can hold 256 KB up to 4 MB. The blocks are then placed randomly on the storage device – which doesn’t hinder access speeds because each block is tagged with a unique identifier. When a user or application needs a file, the computer queries the block storage system, which rapidly identifies and collects all the needed blocks and reassembles them into a complete file. Block storage is ultra-efficient because it doesn’t use metadata, which takes up room on the storage device. Because it’s so fast, businesses tend to use block storage when they want to scale up quickly and when read/write performance is a critical priority.
This type of data storage separates information into distinct objects with unique identifiers and metadata. It doesn’t form a hierarchy like file storage and is considered “flat.” Metadata is a critical component of object storage and each object can have quite a bit of metadata, such as information about the creator of the data and keywords, as well as policies for security, privacy, and access. Object storage works well with APIs so it’s simple to use with existing software and systems. It also scales very well. It could be spread across hundreds or thousands of devices and locations and still be super speedy because all the data is stored in one namespace. It’s the storage type of choice for public cloud providers, such as AWS, and organizations that deal with a lot of unstructured data such as video files, emails, IoT sensor data, social media content, and more.
Types of data storage solutions
There are two main types of digital data storage: Direct-attached storage and network-based storage. Each type can accommodate a range of devices, so we’ll look at the general types first and then delve more into specific data storage devices.
Direct-attached storage (DAS): Advantages and disadvantages
Sometimes referred to as direct-area storage, DAS is storage that is attached directly to a specific computer. It can mean the storage space on your computer’s installed hard drive or solid-state drive, or it can be a removable portable storage medium, such as an external hard drive, CD or DVD, USB drive, or flash drive.
Advantages of DAS include high availability, easy accessibility, easy backups and recovery, and no need for network equipment or setup. Scalability is also a breeze, as it simply requires getting a device with larger capacity. Downsides, however, are that it’s difficult to share data with another user. It requires physically giving someone else the storage drive. So, data is only accessible by one user at a time. Sharing among groups is virtually impossible, which means data is siloed.
Network-based storage: NAS and SAN
The other main type of data storage is network-based. That means it is a centralized repository of information that can be accessed by users on networked computers or other networked devices. Instead of being stored on media directly attached to a single computer, this data is usually stored on servers in a datacenter.
Network-based storage was created to solve the issue of multiple users accessing the data from remote locations. These storage types allow for easy data sharing and collaboration, and because they can be off-site, they are better than DAS for backups and disaster-recovery protection.
Within this type of data storage, there are two common setups: Network-attached storage (NAS) and storage-area network (SAN).
NAS is a single computer or server composed of redundant storage containers or a redundant array of inexpensive disks (RAID) – such as multiple hard drives – that make data accessible to users over an internet connection. It’s usually inexpensive and simple to setup and deploy.
This type of data storage offers flexibility and easy scalability. Increasing capacity means simply adding another hard drive to the existing computer. But because NAS is usually a single machine, scalability isn’t infinite. NAS creates a single volume of stored data in a centralized location, so users can access it from anywhere if they can connect to the network.
Advantages of NAS include its relatively low cost, self-contained nature and administrative simplicity. Data is available anytime and resiliency is high because of the fault-tolerant multiple drives. If one drive fails, the rest of the system stays up and running.
Disadvantages have mostly to do with performance and scalability. The more users trying to access data, the slower the system will be. Because it runs over Ethernet, there could also be issues with in-transit packet loss or mis-ordering, which also slows performance because data isn’t available until all packets arrive and are reassembled correctly within the system. These performance issues aren’t typically a problem when files are small. But a user working with very large files, such as video footage, could see significant slowdowns and disruptions in production.
A SAN is made up of a network of multiple devices, such as solid-state drives (SSDs), flash storage and cloud storage. It’s usually costlier and more complex to setup than NAS. The SAN uses Fibre Channel instead of Ethernet to network servers and storage devices, which can be an array of interconnected components. To users, SAN storage looks like local drives on their computers or other devices.
The advantages of SAN storage are that it’s designed for many more users than NAS. It tends to deliver faster speeds and lower latency than NAS systems and it’s highly scalable with a variety of device options and configurations to choose from.
Disadvantages are as mentioned above: It’s more expensive than NAS and more difficult to setup and manage.
The importance of data storage
Every year, the amount of business data grows. Advanced technologies such as data analytics, the internet-of-things, and AI generate and use massive volumes of data. That means data storage is more critical than ever to the success of every organization. Your data storage solutions are the key to how easily and efficiently you can organize, manage, access, share, and use this vital information.
Besides being so much faster and more reliable than paper-based storage systems, digital data storage has many other benefits:
Long-lasting preservation of data – Digital data storage makes it easy to pool large volumes of information for long periods of time.
Easier accessibility – Everyone can get the information they need, right from their desktop computers instead of having to physically go to a room full of file cabinets.
More efficient data recovery – Stored data is easily backed up by making copies, so recovery is faster and simpler if a file gets lost or corrupted.
Smaller physical footprint and easier scalability – There’s no need for physical file cabinets, which take up lots of room over time, and adding more digital capacity is simple.
Potentially increased security – For very sensitive data, there are many more ways to secure and protect that information digitally using today’s advanced security tools and features.
Easier collaboration across teams – Centrally stored data is accessible to every authorized user and can be accessed and shared among teams as they work together.
More efficient document management – It’s easier to categorize and organize data digitally, and it can be done from a computer desktop or other connected device.
Enhanced productivity and workflows – Saving data digitally takes less time than printing out physical pages and creating files, which must be stored in file cabinets.
How does data storage work?
When you store data on a computer, the digital information is saved to a device, where it remains until deleted. Storage differs from computer memory in a major way: While you can access information quickly from your computer’s RAM, that data is only available in RAM until your computer is turned off. Data storage, however, retains data whether the computer is powered on or off. That’s how it can store data long-term.
Saving data on a computer storage device lets you access that information when you need it. For example, the accounting department can retrieve stored data about employee work hours and use it to carry out bimonthly payroll tasks. A sales rep can pull up information about a customer before a sales call to see recent orders and go over the last visit to remind them of the issues they discussed.
Types of data storage devices
When it comes to data storage devices, you have a lot of options. Here’s a quick rundown of the major categories.
The cloud has fast become a scalable, cost-effective method of storing data for many organizations. Instead of saving data to on-premises hard drives or storage networks, data is saved to offsite locations operated and hosted by public cloud service providers or a private cloud network. The providers maintain the entire infrastructure and you simply pay for anytime, anywhere access to the data saved on it.
Hybrid cloud storage
Hybrid cloud storage means using different clouds for different workloads. For instance, you might keep your most sensitive and or highly regulated data in a private cloud where you have complete control over security. Less sensitive data can be stored inexpensively in the public cloud. Other hybrid scenarios mix private and public clouds with on-premises datacenters as well, for a mix-and-match model that provides the best of both worlds.
Advantages of using cloud and hybrid cloud storage include:
Pay only for the capacity you use
Scale up and scale back workloads as needed
Cloud backups and fast recovery
Easy remote sharing and collaboration
One disadvantage is that you need an internet-connected device to access data, and costs can add up quickly if you move workloads around too much.
SSD and flash storage
When computers first became popular, hard disk drives (HDDs) were standard. HDDs used mechanical spinning disks and a moving head to read and write data. Today’s computers now primarily use SSDs that forgo moving parts for flash memory chips. They’re much faster and have lower latency than HDDs.
Advantages of SSD and flash storage include faster speed – up to 100 times faster than HDDs – and higher durability since they lack moving parts. The lack of moving parts also means they’re more energy efficient and stay cooler than HDDs.
One of the biggest disadvantages is the cost compared to HDDs. SSDs are significantly more expensive, which has made them an expensive choice for long-term storage. The performance makes them great for Tier-1 storage or your most critical data and workloads, but as archive storage, the price might be prohibitive. As technology improves and the drives become more common, prices might gradually decline. They also have a maximum number of reads and writes before they can no longer be used.
Every organization’s data storage strategy should include backup storage to protect against data loss, theft and corruption. It’s critical that all data is backed up regularly to a separate, specific device or location. Backups are your lifeline in the event of a disaster. These backup devices can include HDDs, SSDs, offsite servers, or even optical tape drives. You can also use backup-as-a-service or save backups in the public or private cloud.
In fact, it has long been a best practice to use the 3-2-1 rule for backing up your data. That rule states:
You should have three copies of your data
On at least two different types of media
And at least one copy should be stored offsite or in the cloud
Backup-specific software and appliances can be convenient, but they can also be expensive, depending on the solution and features.
What is the best for storing data?
The quick answer to this question is that the best method of storing data can vary, depending on your requirements, budget, and other factors. But here are a few general tips:
DAS can be a good choice for:
Small businesses, branch offices, and home offices that want a cost-efficient solution and don’t need networking
Hosting just one application and its data
Securing and isolating data for compliance purposes
SAN can be a good choice for:
Large data centers or business-critical applications that need centralized storage resources
Large numbers of employees and an IT staff with skills to manage and maintain the solution
Applications that require very high performance, such as transactional databases
Hosting large relational databases that need high performance
Large enterprises that need a high degree of storage scalability
A fault-tolerant environment for critical applications
NAS can be a good choice for:
Reliable, cost-effective storage for many users that doesn’t compromise performance
Large volumes of unstructured data that need to be shared among users
Applications that aren’t performance-sensitive
Archiving or backing up data
Servers hosting virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and virtual machines (VMs)
Cloud storage can be a good choice for:
Archiving or backing up data for disaster recovery
Data lakes and data analytics platforms
Application development and testing
Storing workloads during a data migration
Storage for cloud-native applications and their data
Storage for industry and regulatory compliance
IoT and machine learning data
What is the safest form of data storage?
Security isn’t always a straightforward topic when it comes to data storage. That’s because each storage type can have security advantages as well as challenges. Here are some of them:
DAS can be considered secure in the sense that a hacker cannot infiltrate a network and carry out an attack. Many removable storage devices such as SSDs, USBs, and so on are considered “air gapped” if they aren’t on a networked system. However, if the device is damaged or lost, the data could be irretrievable.
NAS is a fairly common target for hackers. The storage system is only as secure as your network and router, so it’s important for NAS users to take proven security measures such as regular updates, two-factor authentication, single sign-on processes, encryption, and so on.
SAN is inherently more secure than NAS because its data protection algorithms stay consistent and because if your LAN is attacked, having your data stored on a separate network keeps it protected.
Cloud storage is typically considered the most secure type of data storage because major cloud service providers, such as AWS, Google, and Microsoft have put billions of dollars into making it secure. It’s also secure because providers make multiple copies of your data to create a high degree of redundancy – so if a cloud server goes down, you can still access your data because it’s stored in various servers and locations.
Nutanix Data Storage Solutions
Nutanix has been named a Visionary in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Distributed File Systems and Object Storage in 2021. Data storage solutions from Nutanix include:
Nutanix Objects – A secure, scale-out cloud object storage solution that’s ideal for big data, cloud-native applications and deep archives.
Nutanix Unified Storage – A software-based unified storage solution that eliminates silos and simplifies management and control of data wherever it resides.
All Nutanix Unified Storage and data services integrate seamlessly with our hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) to create a single, manageable architecture.
Committed to keeping pace with evolving storage needs, Nutanix continuously updates and enhances its data storage solutions for your benefit. Our latest enhancements include ransomware detection, improved disaster-recovery features, improved file analytics, and synchronization capabilities.
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