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

Two of our most popular blog posts have been about the differences between file storage, block storage, and object storage. First, we compared file storage vs object storage. This updated blog looks at block storage vs object storage.

What is Block Storage?

Block storage is the oldest and simplest form of data storage. Block storage stores data in fixed-sized chunks called — you guessed it — ‘blocks’. By itself, a block typically only houses a portion of the data. The application makes SCSI calls to find the correct address of the blocks, then organizes them to form the complete file. Because the data is piecemeal, the address is the only identifying part of a block — there is no metadata associated with blocks. This structure leads to faster performance when the application and storage are local, but can lead to more latency when they are farther apart. The granular control that block storage offers makes it an ideal fit for applications that require high performance, such as transactional or database applications.

Block Storage vs Object Storage

Compared to block storage, object storage is much newer. With object storage, data is bundled with customizable metadata tags and a unique identifier to form objects. Objects are stored in a flat address space and there is no limit to the number of objects stored, making it much easier to scale out.

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The metadata tags are a key advantage with object storage — they allow for much better identification and classification of data. You can think of objects as self-describing: They have descriptive labels assigned by the user or application that writes the object. Using a search application you can easily search for a specific object, even if the data itself is not easily searched (such as an image, or media clip, or data set).

For storing unstructured data, block storage vs object storage is no contest. Search capabilities and unlimited scale make object storage ideal for unstructured data, a classification that is currently expected to hit 44 zettabytes by 2020. Object storage is the only option that can effectively store this data at scale.

For additional overviews on object storage, read our previous blog post in this series, “Object Storage vs File Storage.

For a clearer side-by-side comparison of block storage vs object storage, take a look at the table below:

PERFORMANCEPerforms best for big content and high stream throughputStrong performance with database and transactional data
GEOGRAPHYData can be stored across multiple regionsThe greater the distance between storage and application, the higher the latency
SCALABILITYCan scale infinitely to petabytes and beyondAddressing requirements limit scalability
ANALYTICSCustomizable metadata allows data to be easily organized and retrievedNo metadata

Like our previous post on object storage vs. file storage, this was just a general overview of block storage vs object storage. Block storage has many uses within enterprises, but object storage is best equipped to handle the explosive growth of unstructured data.