Data storage refers to how documents are stored digitally and physically. These include your business documents, customer data, and anything else you keep on your computer systems. The data stored can be anything from customer credit card information and addresses to financial documents, employee documentation, and other internal documents you need to help your business operate.
Data storage ensures your files are backed up in case of accidental deletion or system failure. Rather than having your files lost forever, you’ll be able to regain control of them while protecting them from cyberattacks.
The right data storage solution ensures the accessibility of important business files, customer surveys, documents, and data while keeping it secure and enhancing productivity.
Types of data storage
There are three distinct storage formats that allow you to store data in different ways: file, block, and object storage. Which one you choose largely depends on how you want data stored within your organization. Let’s take a closer look at each of the data storage types to help you understand what they are and how they work.
File storage, also known as file-level storage, refers to data stored as a single file within a folder. One of the most common ways we use file storage is when we create a specific folder on our computers and add Word documents to them, working similarly to how we’d organize our hard copy files in an office.
When you need to find a file, all you have to do is enter the file path, telling your computer exactly where to find it. This type of data storage relies on a hierarchical structure with individual files stored in a folder and folders organized in a hierarchy. For instance, if you’re saving financial data, the hierarchical structure might look something like this: Business documents > financial data > year > profit and loss statements > file.
This hierarchical structure is easy to navigate and understand, allowing users to easily access the file they’re looking for, even if they don’t know its name.
Block storage, also known as block-level storage, is considered more efficient than file storage because it breaks files into small blocks of data, storing each block separately on the server. Instead of using directories, subdirectories, and folders like file storage, block storage allows users to access files using unique addresses, pulling the blocks back together into a single file.
Block storage is more complicated than file storage, but it can be more efficient, but it’s also more costly because it has limited metadata capabilities, which adds more work for developers or systems admins.
With object storage, also known as object-based storage, files are broken into smaller pieces — or objects — and stored across hardware. Instead of being stored as files in folders or blocks on servers, they’re kept in a repository. Each repository owns the data and uses a unique identifier to help the system locate the objects distributed throughout the system.
Unlike block storage metadata, object storage metadata can be complex and detailed, allowing it to store more unstructured data using application programming interfaces (APIs). Examples of data stored in object storage include emails, videos, photos, website pages, and other types of data that can’t be organized easily.
Types of data storage devices
Data storage devices include physical hard drives, USBs, or cloud storage that allows you to keep your files backed up and readily available. If your computer crashes and you cannot log back in, you’ll have your data and files stored elsewhere, so they’re not lost forever. There are four common types of data storage devices every business owner should know: primary and secondary storage devices, offline, and cloud storage.
Primary storage devices
Primary storage refers to the computer’s main storage or memory, often referred to as random access memory (RAM). This type of data storage is fast and volatile, meaning the data stored can be lost if the system shuts down. Volatile memory like RAM loses data when the computer shuts down.
Secondary storage devices
Secondary storage devices are not part of your computer system but can be directly attached to them. Hard disk drives (HDDs) are from the old days of computers. They use mechanical spinning disks to read and write data. Modern computers now use solid-state drives (SSDs) in the form of memory chips and flash storage like USB drives and SD cards.
These types of storage are slower than primary storage but non-volatile, meaning they retain information even when the power is off. Therefore, if you experience a system failure or power outage, you won’t lose the data stored on these devices.
Offline storage devices
Offline storage devices are those that aren’t accessible by computer systems alone. Optical disks like DVDs and CDs are the most common form of offline storage. In the past, companies had to use disks with disk drives to store massive amounts of data. However, they’re not used as prevalently today, with many laptops and modern computers completely eliminating disk drives altogether.