What is cloud storage?

What is cloud storage

Cloud storage is the on-demand archival, organization, and distribution of data among virtualized storage volumes that have been consolidated from disparate physical hardware. Or, in simpler terms, cloud storage is the organization of data kept somewhere that can be accessed by anyone—given the right permissions—over the internet. You don’t need to be connected to an internal network (that’s known as network-attached storage) and aren’t accessing the data from your own hard drive or from hardware that’s directly attached to your computer. Cloud storage relies on virtualization to help create the clouds that store your data. Think about it like this:

  • Virtualization abstracts storage space from physical hardware systems (like storage servers).
  • Clouds are the pools of those resources that are orchestrated by management tools to act as a single resource. These clouds can be accessed by users on-demand through self-service portals supported by automation software and dynamic resource allocation.
  • Cloud storage is the process of saving your data to those clouds.

There are 3 types of cloud storage for enterprises: Public cloud storage, private cloud storage, and hybrid cloud storage. There are also 3 ways to format this storage: As blocks, files, or objects. Each format has its pros and cons (blocks are faster, files are easier to understand, and objects work best with cloud-native applications packaged in containers), but some software-defined cloud storage products are able to combine all 3 formats into a unified, easy-to-deploy solution.

How does cloud storage work?

Data can be acted upon as short-term memory or archived as long-term memory. The short-term memory is handled by random-access memory (RAM), which is responsible for processing and remembering all requests and actions during the time a computer processes specific computations (known as tasks). Once all computations are complete, the data can be stored as long-term memory among different storage volumes, some of which may exist as clouds.

At the base of every cloud storage volume are virtual storage resources that are abstracted from physical hardware. Virtualization technologies can take a dozen different servers (commodity or proprietary) and abstract the storage space from them. All this virtual storage space can be pooled together into something called a data lake that users can access as a single repository. If those data lakes are paired with automation and management software that are responsible for metering all that storage space and deploying storage volumes as needed, then you’ve successfully created cloud storage that can be accessed via the internet or APIs.

Types of cloud storage

Public cloud storage

The storage of data among pools of virtual resources known as public clouds, which are developed from hardware owned and managed by a third-party company. Since there are certain innate risks that come with not owning or managing the systems that are storing your data, many organizations are using containers to move workloads and applications among public cloud environments. Persistent storage solutions (like Red Hat® Gluster Storage) help keep those containers from failing—causing stateful applications to lose all of their data.

Private cloud storage

The storage of data among pools of virtual resources known as private clouds, which are sourced from systems dedicated to—and typically owned and managed by—the enterprise using them. Since setting up an enterprise-scale private cloud manually can be less efficient in the long run than using existing software, companies are using platforms like OpenStack® to digitally transform pools of virtual resources into private clouds.

Two of the 6 OpenStack projects are responsible for storage and image retrieval. When paired with software-defined storage solutions (such as Red Hat Ceph Storage), enterprises get more options to store data in ways and places that don’t hinder the performance of large private clouds.

Hybrid cloud storage

The storage of data among a combination of 1 or more public and private cloud environments. While the public and private cloud environments that make up a hybrid cloud are separate entities, migrating data between them is facilitated by encrypted application programming interfaces (APIs). This separate—yet connected—architecture allows enterprises to store critical data in a private cloud, less sensitive data in a public cloud, and move data between either environment as desired.

Hybrid cloud storage for enterprises is best facilitated by container-native storage that removes the need to have an independent storage platform. A single integrated container platform can span the hybrid cloud with greater efficiency and give enterprises a single point of control—regardless of which cloud environment the data resides in.

What if I just want virtual storage?

There are important differences between cloud computing and virtualization that can cause some enterprises to favor virtual storage over cloud storage. It may have to do with compliance and regulatory guidelines, but those industries still need to be able to provide cloud-like storage scalability across virtual deployments.

Take organizations with distributed operations, such as the banking industry. Remote branches must access traditional networks through 4 tiers: network, compute, storage, and service-area networks or NAS. And while the ideal solution would be to put an air-conditioned datacenter in the basement of that branch office, it’s not realistic due to space and/or personnel constraints. So, some virtual storage solutions (like Red Hat Hyperconverged Infrastructure) combine 2 of the storage tiers to streamline virtual storage deployment and management.

Cloud storage formats

Block storage splits a single storage volume (like a cloud storage node) into individual instances known as blocks. It's a fast, low latency storage system ideal for high performance workloads.

Object storage involves pairing a piece of data with unique identifiers known as metadata. Since objects are uncompressed and unencrypted, they can be accessed very quickly at huge scale—making them ideal for cloud-native applications.

File storage is the dominant technology used on NAS systems and is responsible for organizing data and representing it to users. Its hierarchical structure allows us to navigate data from top to bottom easily, but increases processing time.

All the ways you can set up cloud storage

A platform for your business to build a private cloud.

A software-defined storage platform that works particularly well with OpenStack.

Package and isolate applications with all of the files they need to run so you can move workloads and data to any cloud environment.

A software-defined file storage platform that works particularly well with the containers.

Provide some cloud-like scalability by deploying dozens or hundreds of virtual machines.

A virtualization and storage combination the improves storage capabilities for physical locations with limited space.

The OpenStack word mark and the Square O Design, together or apart, are trademarks or registered trademarks of OpenStack Foundation in the United States and other countries, and are used with the OpenStack Foundation’s permission. Red Hat, Inc. is not affiliated with, endorsed by, or sponsored by the OpenStack Foundation or the OpenStack community.

There’s a lot more to do with storage