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Gilad David Maayan
Gilad David Maayan

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Storage Strategies on Azure

Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing vendor, offering a wide range of services. This article offers a review of the storage services available on Azure, including Azure Blob Storage, Azure File Storage, Azure Queue Storage, and Azure Table Storage. You will learn what are the typical use cases for each of these storage solutions, and discover tips for storage optimization.

Introduction to Azure Storage Services

Azure Storage is the overarching, storage solution available in Azure. It is a managed service, meaning that users are not responsible for infrastructure maintenance or updating, and have access to Microsoft support. Azure Storage incorporates multiple different types of storage including object, file-sharing, messaging, disks, and a NoSQL database.

These services are designed to be scalable, highly-available, and secure. Data within these services is replicated to protect from data loss and disasters. There are also a variety of built-in security options available, including access controls and encryption.

Azure Storage also provides flexible access to data. You can access data directly, via the Azure Storage Explorer or Azure Portal. You can also use the REST API or access through PowerShell or CLI.

How Azure Storage Is Helpful for Small and Midsize Businesses

In addition to providing the scalability required for enterprise workloads, Azure Storage Services can also provide benefits to small and medium-sized organizations. These benefits include:

Lower IT costs
Azure Storage eliminates the capital investment that on-premises storage requires. It also eliminates the time and expertise that is needed to configure and maintain storage infrastructures. Since resources are housed remotely, you can avoid costs associated with power use, climate control, and physical storage as well.

Greater flexibility
Within Azure, you can choose the specific services that are right for your needs and pay for those services according to use. This means that you can optimize costs and performance in a granular way that is not possible with on-premises storage.

Additionally, Azure offers services supporting hybrid infrastructures. This means you can supplement your existing resources and maintain greater control over your data by keeping sensitive data on-premises.

Increased competitive advantage
Azure services enable smaller organizations to access the same technologies that are available to enterprises despite having smaller budgets. Many of these services are even managed for you, reducing the burden of expertise that is otherwise needed to incorporate services. This enables businesses to level the playing field and compete in a way that is not possible with in-house technologies alone.

Azure Storage Options: What You Need to Know

As mentioned, within Azure Storage, there are multiple different services. The four primary services covered below.

Azure Blob Storage

Binary large objects (Blob) Storage is an object storage service designed for large volumes of unstructured data. Unstructured data is data that does not follow a specific definition or data model. For example, binary data, images, video, or text files.

Within Blob Storage, there are three storage tiers you can choose from:

  • Hot Access Tierβ€”designed for frequently accessed data. It provides lower access costs in exchange for higher storage costs.
  • Cool Access Tierβ€”designed for infrequently accessed data that you need to store for at least 30 days. It provides lower storage costs in exchange for higher access costs.
  • Archive Access Tierβ€”designed for rarely or never accessed data that you need to store for 180 days or more. It provides the cheapest storage cost in exchange for higher access costs and access latency.

Use cases for Blob storage include:

  • Media streaming
  • Web content delivery
  • Repository for log files
  • Data analytics
  • Archiving, backup, or disaster recovery

Azure Files

Azure Files is a file system service based on the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol. It enables you to set up file shares that can be accessed by cloud or on-premises applications. You can access data stored in Files from any location using SMB or REST API.

Within Files, there are two tiers you can choose from:

  • Standardβ€”designed for general access. It provides up to 5 TB of storage per share.
  • Premiumβ€”designed for I/O intensive workloads. It provides up to 100 TB of storage per share.

Use cases for AFS include:

  • Lift and shift migration of file systems
  • Hybrid file sharing across cloud and on-premises resources
  • Shared resources for development teams and system administrators
  • Centralized storage of logs and configuration files

Azure Queue Storage

Queue Storage is a service that you can use to asynchronously store messages between services and applications. It supports messages up to 64 KB for up to 7 days and each queue can hold up to 200 TB of data.

With Queue Storage, you can decouple components, enabling greater workload durability and scalability. By enabling you to process messages asynchronously, Queue also helps you avoid bottlenecks created during times of high traffic. This ensures that your applications and services deliver more consistent and reliable responses.

Use cases for Queue Storage include:

  • Batch processing
  • Distribution of workloads
  • Assurance of transaction order

Azure Table Storage

Table Storage is a service you can use to store structured, non-relational data, NoSQL data. Data stored within Table Storage is schemaless and is assigned to key-value pairs. This enables you to easily adapt data as needed.

Use cases for Table Storage include:

  • Storing data for web applications
  • Querying clustered indexes of data
  • Developing applications that aren’t restricted by data schemas
  • Storing large amounts of data without sharding

Planning Your Azure Storage Strategy: Tips

When adopting Azure storage services, there are several strategic tips you should use. These tips can help you ensure that you are getting the best possible performance from your storage at the lowest possible cost.

Storage access tiers
Whenever possible, you should take advantage of data tiering. Tiering helps you ensure that you are not wasting resources or money on lower priority data. Both Blob Storage and Files offer tiers. To get the most from these services, set services to tier automatically according to access policies. This can help ensure that data remains accessible without requiring maintenance.

Multi-factor authentication
When configuring your permissions and access settings, ensure that you have multi-factor authentication (MFA) enabled. If you are not able to enforce MFA for all accounts, at least do so for your administrative accounts.

MFA helps ensure that your users are authorized to access or modify resources and data. It can help ensure that even if credentials are compromised, thieves are not able to access your accounts.

Manage your backups
Although most Azure Storage services automatically replicate data, you should still make sure that this replication is accessible. Internal replication to meet service level agreements is not the same as backups you create or automate. Rather than relying on this replication, you can use services such as Azure Backup or built-in backup features.

You should make sure that your backups are created on the schedule that meets your needs. This ensures that you can recover data reliably if something goes wrong, such as an accidental deletion. Additionally, it’s a good idea to store backups in a separate storage account from your source data. This adds a layer of protection in case your account is compromised and helps prevent attackers from deleting your backups.

Conclusion

Azure offers a wide range of storage solutions, but there are four popular services you should know. Azure Blob Storage is an object storage service typically used for big unstructured data. Azure File Storage is an SMB-based file sharing system typically used for lift and shift migrations and for logs. Azure Queue is typically used for storing asynchronous messaging data. Azure Table stores schemaless data using key-value pairs.

Each of these services offer a different value, but the tips provided here can be applied to any of Azure storage services. Whichever solution you choose, you can use storage access tiers to optimize resource usage; implement multi-factor authentication to secure your data; and use Azure’s built-in backup features to ensure the continual viability of your data.

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