Whether it’s an ambitious web app or a simple blog, almost all web-based projects will require some form of data storage to function. We’re well into the information age, and data is everything. Being able to effectively store the data important to you is vital to operating your business.

What is block storage?

Block storage involves splitting data into structured volumes (also known as blocks), which need to conform to certain rules. The data in a block doesn’t contain any metadata to provide context – instead, each block is assigned an identifier which simply tells the storage software where to store the block, and where it can be retrieved from. Each block is then treated as a separate hard drive, and managed by the storage software.

What is object storage?

On the other hand, object storage does not break data down into blocks. It keeps each piece of data (object) unstructured, such as an image or HTML file, and there are no specific formats the data needs to follow. Each piece of data contains metadata which gives it context. While this makes the process of storing each element simpler, needing to retrieve each piece separately and in a different way means that object-based storage typically performs slower than a block storage setup.

Best uses for block and object storage

Block storage is a familiar form of data storage, and can be used in a wide variety of applications. It’s commonly used in databases, where its consistent high performance is needed to deal with ever-changing data. If any existing data needs to be changed, this can happen without needing to move the data or replace and overwrite it. This cuts read-write times substantially. However, you’ll need to pay for all of the allocated space for block storage, regardless of whether you’re using all of it or not.

Object storage is not as focused on the performance and speed at which data is stored. As each piece of data is stored separately rather than being split into blocks, you’d only need to pay for the space you’re using, and it can be scaled more easily than block storage. However, if you want to make updates to the data, object storage requires you to remove the existing object and completely replace it with the updated one, which has performance implications. This is why object storage tends to be better suited to mostly static data.

Online or offline

Block storage can be used both as part of a physical drive, or as a ‘virtual’ drive plugged into a network. In both cases, a big advantage of block storage over object storage is that it can be easily transferred between different servers. An entire block storage system can be literally or virtually unplugged from one machine and plugged into another. However, this also means that a block storage setup can only be used through one server at a time.

Object storage providers store the data in the cloud, so the drives don’t have a physical counterpart in the same way block storage drives do. It is usually offered as part of a service, so management of hardware is not required. While it can therefore be tricky to migrate the unstructured data across servers it can be set up to serve multiple machines over the same network.

Object storage vs block storage

Deciding which type of storage would suit your project better depends on the data you’re going to be storing, and how easy you’d like it to be to set up. If your data doesn’t change often, object storage might be the answer as the infrastructure is handled by the provider.

However, if your data changes often, block storage is likely the way to go. Although setup can be more complicated, many services now offer block storage without the complexity. As it handles data changes with lower latency, it’s the better option for more dynamic data.

CloudNX from Fasthosts allows you to easily add block storage to your Cloud Servers customise the amount you want, and see a simple cost breakdown as you choose your drive size. We handle the setup, so you can get low-latency storage without the headache.