The world of cloud storage has many facets to consider. Here’s a comparison of block, object, and file storage across the big two providers
One of the most common use cases for public IaaS cloud computing is storage and that’s for good reason: Instead of buying hardware and managing it, users upload data to the cloud and pay for how much they put there.
It sounds simple. But in reality, the world of cloud storage has many facets to consider. Each of the two major public IaaS cloud vendors — Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure — have a variety of storage options and in some cases complicated schemes for how much it costs.
Block storage is persistent disk storage used in conjunction with cloud-based virtual machines. Each of the providers break their block storage offerings into two categories: traditional magnetic spinning hard-drive disks, or newer SSDs (solid-state disks), which are generally more expensive but have better performance. Customers can also pay a premium to get a certain amount of guaranteed IOPs (input/output per second), which basically is an indication of how fast the storage will save new information and read information stored in it.
Amazon’s product is named EBS (Elastic Block Store) and it comes in three main flavors: Throughput Optimized HHD, a traditional magnetic, spinning-disk offering; General Purpose SSD, next-generation drives; and Provisioned IOPs SSD, which come with a guaranteed rate of reads and writes to the data.
Azure’s block storage offering is called Managed Disks and comes in standard or premium with the latter based on SSDs.
AWS has a 99.95% availability, while Azure offers a 99.99% availability SLA (service-level agreement) for block storage service.
One of the most important factors to consider when buying block storage is how fast you need access to the data stored on the SSD disk. For that, the vendors offer different guaranteed rates of IOPs. AWS’s general purpose SSD offers 10,000 IOPS, but its provisioned IOPs offering can offer up to 20,000 IOPs per instance, with a maximum IOPs of 65,000 per volume. Azure offers 5,000 IOPs.
Azure offers between 1GB and 1TB volume sizes. AWS and Azure are at 500 max IOPs per volume. Max throughput ranges from Azure are 60 MBps to Google at 180 for read and 120 for write, and AWS at 500 MBps.
As for pricing, it gets a bit complicated (all prices are per GB/month), but for HHD, AWS starts at $0.045 and Azure is $0.03.
SSD pricing starts at $0.10 in AWS, and between $0.12 and 0.14 for Azure, depending on the size of the disk.
In a pricing analysis done by RightScale, the company found that generally the pricing structure means that Azure has the best price/performance ratio for block storage.
Weins adds that RightScale has found some customers pay provisioned IOPs then forgot to deprovision the EBS instance when they are done using it, thus wasting money.
Got a file that you need to put in the cloud? Object storage is the service for you. Again, the cloud providers have different types of storage, classified by how often the customer expects to access it. “Hot” storage is data that needs to be almost instantaneously accessible. “Cool” storage is accessed more infrequently, and “cold” storage is archival material that is rarely accessed. The colder the storage, the less expensive it is.
AWS’s primary object storage platform is Simple Storage Service (S3). It offers S3 Infrequent Access for cool storage and Glacier for cold storage. Azure only has a hot and cool option with Azure Hot and Cool Storage Blobs; customers have to use the cool storage for archival data. AWS and Google each have a 5TB object size limit, while Azure has a 500TB per account limit. AWS publicize 99.999999999% durability for objects stored in their cloud. That means that if you store 10,000 objects in the cloud, on average one file will be lost every 10 million years, AWS says. The point is this systems are designed to be ultra durable. Azure does not publish durability service level agreements.
Pricing on object storage is slightly more complicated because customers can choose to host their data in a single region, or for a slightly increased cost they can back it up across multiple regions, which is a best-practice to ensure you have access to your data if there is an outage in a region.
In AWS, for example, S3 costs (all prices are in GB/month) $0.023; to replicate data across multiple regions costs twice as much: $0.046, plus a $0.01 per GB transfer fee. AWS’s cool storage service, named S3 Infrequent Access (IA) is $0.0125 and its cold storage/archival service Glacier costs $0.004.
Azure offers single-region storage for $0.0184, and what it calls “Globally Redundant Storage” for $0.046, but it is read only, which means you cannot write changes to it, doing so costs more money. Azure’s cool storage is named Cool Blob Storage is $0.01. Azure does not yet offer a cold or archival storage platform, so customers must use Cool Blob storage for that use case.
An emerging use case is the use of a cloud-based file storage system. Think of this as a cloud-based version of a more traditional Network File System (NFS): Users can mount files to the system from any device or VM connected to it, then read and retrieve files. This is a relatively nascent cloud storage use case and therefore offerings are not yet as full featured compared to block and object storage, Adler says.
AWS’s offering in this category is named Elastic File Storage, which emerged from beta in June 2016. It allows users to mount files from AWS Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) virtual machines, or from on-premises services using AWS Direct Connect or a virtual private connection (VPC). There is no size limit, so it scales automatically based on need and offers a 50 MB per second throughput per TB of storage; customers can pay for up to 100MBps throughput. It starts at $0.30/GB/month.
Azure, meanwhile offers Azure File Storage, which is similar in nature but has a capacity of 5TB per file and 500TB per account and it requires manual scaling. It offers a 60MBps throughput for reading files.
Azure offer lower prices for their file storage systems compared to AWS: Azure is $0.80 per GB/month, but Adler says those costs do not take into account any replication or transfer charges. While AWS’s base price may seem higher, when taking into account all that it factors in related to scaling, it could be a wash between the three providers.
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