Block Storage vs Object Storage vs File Storage: A Buyer’s Guide

Updated: October 11, 2022
Originally published: September 30, 2022

50 shades of blue aside, we compare object storage, block storage, and file storage.

Here’s the TL;DR of object storage vs block storage vs file storage, and when you’d use each storage type:

What is Object Storage vs Block Storage vs File Storage?

File StorageBlock StorageObject Storage
How data is storedFileBlockObjects
StructureHierarchical / folderNoneFlat (with buckets)
ScalabilityNoneSomewhatFew limits
When to use?When need quick access to smaller files or a manageable amount of structured data.When need quick access to larger files stored on-premises or in a database.When have a lot of unstructured data/large files, and don’t need to edit/access the data frequently.

In the rest of this guide, we review each type of storage in more detail, when you should use each, and conclude with object storage vendor comparison and shopping tips.

What is Object Storage?

Object storage (or object-based storage) is a data storage architecture (usually in the cloud) that can hold huge amounts of unstructured data (emails, web pages, and audio and video files). Data is stored as objects or distinct units in object storage. Each of these objects contain varying amounts of metadata, and a unique identifier aka a “key”. For example, Spotify uses object storage to hold millions of music files and deploy them for instant streaming.

What is object storage’s structure?

Object storage has a “flat” structure / hierarchy. Data is organized into containers called “buckets”.

What is the size of objects?

Each object size varies, especially considering that most objects consist of unstructured data.

How scalable and cost-effective is object storage?

Thanks to the cloud, object storage is the most cost-effective storage type because it has few limits to the amount of data it can store.

When would you use object storage?

You would use object storage when you have a lot of unstructured data and large files, and don’t need to edit and or access that data frequently. Object storage is great for storing static data, e.g., backups and archived data. For example, Spotify uses object storage to hold millions of music files and deploy them for instant streaming. Other companies like TransUnion use object storage to store their access and security logs for future use as part of infosec investigations.

What is Block Storage?

Block storage stores data as chunks of raw data in a linear manner (i.e. in a block). These blocks are also of fixed size, which makes it easy and fast to access that data.

What is block storage’s structure?

There is no structure / hierarchy / file system in block storage (i.e. you have to organize the raw data yourself).

What’s the size of each block?

Each data block has a fixed, constant size.

How scalable and cost-effective is block storage?

Block storage is more costly than both object and file storage, and it requires a centralized system (i.e. physical disk drives) located on-premises. Despite its need for a centralized system, block storage excels if you need data on-premises or in a private cloud.

When would you use block storage?

You would use block storage when you have large amounts of data that exceed the limits of file storage. You’d store this data on-premises or in a private cloud for easy, secure, and quick access, i.e., when you need flexibility and speed to access a manageable amount of structured data.

What is File Storage?

File storage is the OG and most ubiquitous way of storing data. You’ve most likely seen file storage in action on either a PC or Mac. As its name implies, you store data (and its corresponding metadata such as access permissions and attributes) in a hierarchical manner on a file storage system.

What is file storage’s structure?

As its name implies, you store data (and its corresponding metadata such as access permissions and attributes) in a hierarchical structure on a file storage system. This structure allows you to create directories, folders, and sub-folders to organize your data.

What’s the size of each file?

Each file size varies depending on the contents and its corresponding metadata.

How scalable and cost-effective is file storage?

File storage isn’t scalable or cost-effective because you’re dependent on physical disk drives to store and organize your data. Also, you inadvertently create an access bottleneck once you fill up your file storage system with a large amount of files (you have to traverse a single path in order to access any file). File storage systems will lag when they’ve stored too much data.

When would you use file storage?

You’d use file storage when you don’t have much unstructured data and just need immediate access to structured data like Word documents or PDFs.

How to Pick the Right Object Storage Service for Your Needs

Amazon Web Services (AWS) launched their own object storage called Simple Storage Service (S3) back in 2006. It quickly became the leader in cheap object storage, the S3 API set the standard for the object storage industry as a whole. But, S3 pricing over the years became almost indecipherable and needlessly complicated, with many customers turning to consultants like Corey Quinn and the Duckbill Group to lower their AWS bills.

Given S3’s prevalence, almost all object storage providers nowadays ensure both their object storage service and APIs are S3-compatible. And as a testament to the power of the free market, organizations like GPORTAL have been switching to S3 alternatives in order to rein in costs and get clearer visibility into their monthly object storage bills. We’ve alluded to some of these tips already, but follow these tips when you comparison shop object storage providers:

  • How nice is the price? Price isn’t everything, but when it comes to object storage, you best believe price is what makes a difference, especially if the vendors all offer the same features and are of comparable reputation and product quality.
  • Look at their billing structure: How easy is it to understand? Is it actually a simple month-to-month all-inclusive price structure?
  • Is there vendor lock-in? Legit providers will give you unlimited, free transfer to S3 and other object storage vendors (after all, it’s your data and money).
  • How robust are their integrations? Many vendors offer amazing object storage prices, but have little integrations, let alone support for them.
  • Easy migrations: Is it actually easy to migrate your data? Look at vendors’ documentation to get an idea of how much work you need to do. And read their case studies, too, to get a sense of what customers’ experiences are like.
  • What’s the upkeep like? Is it actually easy to access and retrieve your data?

GPORTAL, a game server hosting company, used all of these tips when they were shopping around for an affordable S3 alternative. They found that Contabo Object Storage fit all of these criteria and their needs (especially on price, which came out to $11.96 USD/month for 1 TB of storage and 2 TB of transfer).

The Bottom Line: Do Your Due Diligence

It can be a bit tough comparison shopping object storage vendors: they all offer the same features and are priced similarly at first glance. The good thing is that there are many resources to help you do your due diligence (e.g., Reddit, asking your friends and former co-workers for their recommendations). And if you’re keen on saving 7.5X or more on your monthly object storage bill, then sign up for Contabo Object Storage.

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