The growth of cloud block storage: Building blocks in the cloud

The Growth of Cloud Block Storage: Building Blocks in the Cloud

By Sue Poremba

Sue Poremba is a freelance writer focusing primarily on security and technology issues and occasionally blogs for Rackspace Hosting.

Cloud block storage is a new way of thinking about how you store files and organise content. It allows you to abstract your infrastructure away from the implementation details specifying what hardware and operating system you need to manage to host the files your applications and organisation use.

“Cloud block storage allows organizations to focus on their content and trust the details of delivering that content to an established SaaS provider. It functions like a hard drive accessible via the Internet,” explained Troy Carl, vice president and lead tech engineer with Faith Comes by Hearing, an audio Bible organisation that utilises cloud block storage for its recordings.

“Storing files and assets in the cloud is important because it means you have a large amount of flexibility in how you deliver them to your customers and employees,” Carl added. “Not only are the files constantly available, you have the ability to control – at a very granular level – who has access to those files and when they have access.” 

What makes cloud block storage unique is the scale and multi-tenant nature the cloud brings to it, John Griffith, software engineer at SolidFire, pointed out. “Initially cloud storage consisted of lower performing, one-size fits all storage that was best for testor development use cases and custom designed SaaS applications. As storage in the cloud matures we’ll move from using the cloud for just test or development to high-performance mission critical applications.” 

Cloud block storage can be thought of as an on-demand disk drive service, according to Azmir Mohamed, Senior Director, Product Management at Cloudscaling. For example, in most OpenStack-based clouds, cloud block storage allows new volumes to be requested using supported user interfaces or APIs, new volumes to be attached to a running instance, and new volumes appear as block devices just like any hard drive.

Because it’s virtualised, cloud block storage allows companies to add a level of indirection between their hardware resources and their virtualised servers, meaning the storage is no longer tied to specific hardware and other tasks can be performed underneath the storage layer.

This ability creates opportunities for businesses to perform tasks with physical servers with more efficiency in their data management.

“For instance, in a traditional server environment, companies would have physical storage located within each machine, so it is difficult to relocate that server or the applications running on top without service downtime,” explained Julian Chesterfield, OnApp Storage and Virtualisation Architect. 

With cloud block storage, however, companies have the ability to perform tasks, such as disk lifecycle management, outside of the VM. Since the VM doesn’t know it’s sitting on top of a smart block management layer, it is not required to manage any of the complexity around block replication and atomic snapshots.

The VM operating system is not even aware in most cases that it is being migrated between hypervisors, and the simple virtual block interface is a key component in providing the abstraction to make that happen.

For Carl, the key benefits of cloud storage revolve around the total cost of ownership. The management and maintenance of the actual hardware supporting the delivery of files is included in the cost of the service.

Cloud storage provides a more reliable and high performance experience for users who rely on the data delivered via a cloud block storage system.  The user benefits from the high performance hardware and infrastructure that is available to users of SaaS cloud storage solutions that individual organizations would find difficult to acquire and maintain with more limited resources.

The significance of this technology is or will become crucial to many businesses as IT professionals realise the benefits of the performance and reliability of cloud block storage. 

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