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7 Important Features of the Block Storage Approach

Technologies | May 31, 2024

In today’s data-driven world, scalable data storage solutions play an important but almost universally under-appreciated role. Contrary to popular perception, they are more than just repositories of data. The specific approach employed by a storage solution often determines the functionality of the countless apps that modern societies depend on.

As businesses and other institutions continue to store an ever-increasing volume of information, key decision-makers must move beyond basic understandings of data storage and consider the deeper implications of different storage solutions.

Several approaches to data storage have been developed over the decades, and there’s no doubt that more will eventually arise to manage seemingly unlimited demand. Of the different available frameworks, however, block storage is fast emerging as the preferred data storage and retrieval solution for businesses and other large organisations. Let’s explore the concept of block storage in depth in this article.

Block Storage approaches

What is Block Storage?

Block storage approaches divide data into blocks of equal size. Each block is given a unique ID and is stored separately on an underlying physical storage system. This is different from the traditional data storage approach, where data is stored in files with additional metadata and accessed through a file system such as NFS, CIFS, or SMB. 

Without a file system acting as a barrier, block storage offers requesters a more direct route to the data. Over billions of data requests and operations, this translates into significant performance gains. Removing the file system layer also conserves computing resources and, consequently, helps reduce the massive energy demands generated by data centres—potentially reducing the environmental impact of each data request. 

Because of these very real benefits, institutions with large data retrieval demands are turning to proven solutions like HPE GreenLake for block storage. These storage services are currently on the receiving end of a high degree of innovation, like an AI-driven cloud experience to allow even better utilisation of the block storage paradigm’s potential. 

Here are some features that organisations can look forward to after they’ve transitioned to a block storage solution:

1) Better Performance

Doing away with the traditional file management layer allows block storage to achieve remarkably high performance, especially in terms of low latency and high input/output operations per second (IOPS). Limiting the amount of metadata that needs to be processed and relying on unique identifiers for each block reduces overhead, allowing for efficient data retrieval. 

This makes block storage ideal for transactional databases and other latency-sensitive applications. As app users become more demanding, block storage may become increasingly necessary for apps to deliver the expected levels of low-latency performance.

2) Superior Flexibility and Scalability

Block storage is not confined to specific network environments. Individual blocks can easily be configured for different operating systems without the organisation’s IT team having to implement workarounds that slow down data retrieval times. This ensures high availability and allows businesses to scale storage capacity simply by adding new blocks as needed.

3) Support for Frequent Data Modifications

Data modifications in a block storage framework are handled differently from those in conventional file-based systems. Database managers can rewrite individual data blocks, doing away with the need to alter entire files. This ease of modification is particularly beneficial for large applications that require constant updates.

4) Granular Control over Data

Because specific blocks can be altered or transferred, database managers have very fine control over information in a block storage framework. Importantly, managers can optimise performance by organising data according to how frequently it’s needed. For instance, frequently changed data can be stored on blocks hosted on faster SSDs, while less dynamic data can be stored on slower, cost-effective options like HDDs.

5) High Resilience

Block storage distributes data across multiple blocks and paths, minimising the risk of a single point of failure. This may permit applications to remain operational even if some parts of the storage system encounter issues.

6) Suitability for Virtual Machine Environments

Virtual machine (VM) storage environments can often be slow due to the inherent latency and complexity of data storage in virtualised setups. Block storage can mitigate this issue by allowing users to install operating systems, file systems, and other resources directly on block storage volumes. This setup enhances the efficiency of virtualised storage and allows for seamless migration between different hosts, thereby improving the performance of VMs.

7) Use in Storage Area Networks (SANs)

Block storage is a fundamental component of Storage Area Networks (SANs). SANs present block storage to multiple networked systems as locally attached storage, often using fibre channel interconnects. This setup provides a very high-efficiency alternative to conventional file storage, with SANs employing synchronous or asynchronous replication for redundancy.

Case for Block Storage

The Case for Block Storage

The deceptively simple removal of conventional file systems has allowed for new leaps in efficiency and flexibility in database management. In practice, it has already allowed app developers more freedom to deliver high-performing apps that need to draw on massive amounts of data. Moreover, the superior scalability and improved inter-application compatibility offered by the framework have opened up new frontiers for application development.

Block storage is already addressing many of the pitfalls of older-generation storage technologies, and industry stalwart HPE has recently updated its block storage services. These improvements over legacy systems make block storage ideal for businesses seeking a simple-to-deploy, future-proof storage option. Knowing these key features, decision-makers can be better prepared to use block storage to their advantage—not just for better information retrieval, but also to explore the still-unknown possibilities offered by the framework.