Making Sense of Azure Storage: Which Service Should You Choose?



Azure Storage is a cloud storage service provided by Microsoft (News - Alert). It provides a secure, highly available, redundant and scalable cloud storage. Azure storage offers multiple options to store information like video, images, audio, or log files. In addition, Azure lets you easily access and analyze this information when needed.

There are five Azure storage types, two storage account types, and three storage tiers. This article explores each option in detail to help you figure out which offer suits your storage requirements.

An Overview of Azure Storage

Azure Storage is a cloud storage service that provides various storage solutions for organizations. Azure’s storage solutions include a scalable object store for data objects, a messaging store, a cloud-based file-sharing solution, disk storage for virtual machines, and NoSQL store.

Azure Storage features include:

  • High availability and redundancy—Azure Storage is designed to be redundant and highly available. Redundancy is provided in the event of temporary hardware failures, while multiple replication techniques provide protection against regional and local outages.
  • Security—any data written to Azure Storage is encrypted when at rest and while in transit. Additionally, Azure offers control features that enable organizations to manage who has access to data.
  • Maintenance—maintenance tasks like updates and issue resolution are handled by Azure because it’s a managed service. Thus, organizations do not need to perform routine maintenance tasks of the underlying hardware and supporting data storage services.
  • Flexibility—ensures the accessibility of data from any location via several methods and languages. You can access the data stored in Azure HTTPS or HTTP, as well as via Java, .NET (News - Alert), Python, Node.js, and PHP. You can also access the data via a stable REST API. In addition, you can access the data via Azure PowerShell scripts, via the Azure Storage Explorer, and from the Azure Portal.

Azure Storage Accounts

Azure storage accounts enable users to access different components of the storage domain. You can select the flexibility and resilience level and Azure takes care of the rest. The maximum data storage capacity is 500 TB on a single storage account.

Azure offers a number of storage account types. Each type provides different features and has its own pricing model. You have to decide which account type is best for your needs before creating a storage account.

Here’s a quick breakdown that explains the difference between each Azure storage account type:

  • General-purpose v1 accounts—storage for legacy files, tables, blobs, and queues.
  • General-purpose v2 accounts—basic storage for blobs, files, queues, and tables. Recommended for most Azure Storage use cases.
  • FileStorage accounts—high performance file storage. Recommended for enterprise storage or high-performance applications.
  • Block Blob Storage accounts—high performance blob storage. Recommended for small objects, low storage latency, constant quiring scenarios, or high transaction rates.
  • Blob storage accounts—storage for legacy blobs. Consider using General-purpose v2 accounts instead when possible.

Azure Storage Services

There are five Azure storage types: blob storage, file storage, table storage, queue storage, and Azure managed disks.

Blob storage

Blob storage enables you to store any type of file, similar to storing files on your own computer. You can place your files inside containers and make them available to end users or applications over HTTP. There is no limit to the number of blobs or containers you can have. However, the total size of storage accounts is usually limited.

Azure Files

Azure file storage (AFS) offers highly available network file shares through the standard Server Message Block (SMB) protocol. You can use multiple Azure Virtual Machines (VM) to share similar files with reading and write access. The REST interface or the storage client libraries can help in reading the files.

Azure file storage enables you to access files from any location through a URL that points towards the file together with a Shared Access Signature (SAS (News - Alert)) token. These tokens are used to give access to a private asset for a specific period of time. Use cases of Azure files include configuration files, and on-premises applications. Moreover, you can use Azure file storage for storing metrics, crash dumps, and diagnostic logs.

However, AFS has some limitations that can interrupt enterprise-level operations, such as the storage limit of 1TB per file. Also, there is no native backup solution. This is why Azure partnered with third-party service providers, like NetApp Azure Files to solve some of the performance and backup limitations.

Azure queue storage

The purpose of the Queue Storage service is to exchange messages between components either on-premise or in the cloud. You can store large amounts of messages and share them between independent application components. The queue storage service communicates asynchronously via HTTP or HTTPS. Use cases of Queue Storage include backlog messages processing or message exchanging between Azure Web roles and Worker roles.

Table storage

The Table storage format is similar to a NoSQL store, you can store extremely large amounts of semi-structured, non-relational data. Table storage enables you to insert and retrieve data using client libraries, or API calls.

The data is organized in tables, while each row contains a different data entity with its properties. Examples of table storage include storing diagnostic logs, customer or order information, or a simple address book. However, you should consider using advanced Azure services such as CosmosDB, if you need foreign keys, stored procedures, or complex joins.

Azure managed disk

Azure managed disk is a virtual hard disk that provides functionalities similar to a virtualized on-premises server. Azure managed disks store files and assets in the form of page blobs that act as random Azure storage objects. The service is considered to be managed because of the abstraction it provides over storage accounts, page blobs, and blob containers.

Azure Storage Tiers: Hot Access vs Cool Access vs Archive

Azure offers three blob storage tiers: Archive tier, Cool Access tier, Hot Access tier. You can use these tiers to store data at different stages of its life cycle at a cost-effective manner.

  • Hot Access Tier—used for frequently accessed data, and data that is read or written very often. The costs of data storage for this tier are higher than other tiers, but the access costs are lower.
  • Cool tier—used for short-term storage of data. The data in the cool tier usually have high capacity, but low-cost storage options. Common use cases of cool storage tier include short-term data backup, analytics data storage, large media files, and telemetry.
  • Archive tier—designed for data that can be stored offline on a long-term basis. Usually there is no immediate or urgent requirement to access the data. An acceptable waiting time to access the data is about 15 hours. A possible example is retrieval of medical records from an archive for research purposes.

Conclusion

Azure offers many different storage options for developing applications, database solutions, data analytics systems or data warehouses. Azure cloud storage environments enable you to store, ingest and manage your data more easily. You can use the different storage types to migrate your workloads, to share applications, monitor and analyze data, and store applications.

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Author Bio:

Leah Fainchtein Buenavida

I'm a technology writer with 30 years experience, covering areas ranging from fintech and digital marketing to cybersecurity and coding practices.

LinkedIn (News - Alert): https://www.linkedin.com/in/leahfainchteinbuenavida/