Comparing Object Storage vs Block Storage vs File Storage

Learn about object storage, block storage, and file storage and the differences between each data storage method.

Brien Posey

April 25, 2023

6 Min Read
Comparing Object Storage vs Block Storage vs File Storage

Table of Contents

What Is Object Storage?

Object storage optimizes the storage of extremely large amounts of data, making it popular among enterprises and cloud service providers because of its nearly infinite scalability.

Object storage has the unique characteristic of storing data in a flat address space. Files and folders are stored as objects, and these objects contain both the file data and associated metadata or custom attributes. Although object storage does not use a hierarchical folder structure, data can be stored in a way that gives the appearance of a folder structure.  

Well-known examples of cloud object storage products include Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure Blob Storage, Google Cloud Storage, and IBM Cloud Object Storage.

What Is Block Storage?

Block storage is a type of storage used for storing data on physical or virtual disks by dividing the available disk space into a series of blocks, each of which has an identifier. Block-based storage enables high performance and low latency, making it suitable for network use with protocols like iSCSI or Fibre Channel.

Block storage can be dynamically resized. It also supports functions such as encryption and snapshots, although these are typically provided by the operating system rather than the storage itself. Nearly all operating systems support block storage, making it widely used.

What Is File Storage?

As a term, file storage can mean different things depending on whether the data is being stored on a file server (on-premises or in the cloud) or in the cloud using a dedicated file storage service.

From the standpoint of a file server, file storage involves organizing unstructured data (typically files) on a disk using a file system. The available file systems vary depending on the operating system in use, but common file systems include FAT, FAT32, NTFS, ReFS, and NFS.

The file system effectively sets the rules for how files are stored on the disk. For example, the file system sets the maximum number of characters that can be used in a file name, as well as which characters are allowed. The file system also establishes the maximum number of folders that can be created and the maximum folder depth.

In some cases, the file system helps to keep files secure. For example, the widely used NTFS file system supports the use of access control lists and encryption.

A cloud-based file storage service works slightly differently than a file server. Most file storage services are serverless, meaning that the cloud provider uses a file server behind the scenes but does so in a transparent manner. In other words, customers do not see the file server and don’t have to worry about maintaining it. Instead, customers simply access their files through a common file storage protocol.

How Object, Block, and File Storage Compare

Block, file, and object storage each have unique characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses. As such, none of these storage types are ideally suited for every use case.

In situations where performance and latency matter, block storage excels. It also offers relatively high flexibility and wide support. However, block storage can be more expensive than other storage types.

File storage makes it easy for users to access files. Depending on the file system, file storage may even allow for concurrent file access. However, each file system comes with a certain amount of overhead, which will affect performance to some extent. Additionally, file storage has limited scalability.

Object storage, meanwhile, is widely regarded as the most cost-effective option for storing large amounts of data. Object storage supports extreme scalability. As a drawback, conventional data access protocols do not work with object storage since an object store must be accessed through a RESTful API.


What are the benefits and drawbacks of using object storage?

Object storage can benefit users who need a storage option that is highly scalable and able to accommodate vast amounts of data. Typically, this data gets distributed across multiple nodes, with some degree of redundancy as a way of guarding against data loss. Object storage is also often regarded as a less expensive alternative to file storage because it requires less hardware.

However, while optimized for capability and scalability, object storage typically comes with performance limitations. Hence, object storage may be a poor choice when high levels of performance are required. It also tends to be complicated to set up.

In addition, as noted above, object storage is regarded as a low-cost storage technology, but that would be in the case where a user or organization has large amounts of data to store. Those savings might not be realized if you only need to store small amounts of data.

Object storage can also present a drawback because it is accessed via a RESTful API instead of conventional storage access methods.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of using block storage?

Block storage offers many benefits, including flexibility and the ability to accommodate a variety of file systems. Volumes can be resized as needed. Block storage also supports many types of hardware, ranging from a single disk to RAID arrays. Additionally, block storage can provide the required IOPS for high-performance file systems, so long as the underlying hardware is sufficient.

In some cases, block storage can be more expensive and more difficult to manage than other storage types. It is also intended for a use case in which a physical or virtual disk needs to be divided into volumes. As such, block storage has no file system of its own but rather depends on having a file system installed on top of a storage volume.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of using file storage?

File storage has several benefits over competing storage types, including nearly universal compatibility and centralized management. More importantly, file storage is easy to use and a good choice for collaborative environments in which multiple users need to access files simultaneously.

Although file systems can store large amounts of data, they do not offer the same scalability as object storage. Similarly, file systems have inherent limits related to the data storage hierarchy. For example, file systems usually have limits on the number of characters that can be used in a file name, the number of folders that can be created, the maximum number of files in a folder, and the maximum folder depth.

About the Author(s)

Brien Posey

Brien Posey is a bestselling technology author, a speaker, and a 20X Microsoft MVP. In addition to his ongoing work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years training as a commercial astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space.

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