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How to Choose the Best Online File Storage for You

June 26, 2020


There once was a time where file storage meant boxes piled around offices and conference rooms filled with important documents.

Now, the concept of storing files is done almost entirely online, making both storing files and sharing files easier than ever. No matter what sort of device you regularly use, saving files, from music to pictures and even important work documents, is a form of file storage.

Files are stored in either a selected location on your device’s hard drive or in the cloud and can be accessed at any time. Not only will all data be stored as complete files, but there’s also the benefit of your files located in a folder structure or hierarchy of directories that can be found and organized through a specific click-path.

As an example, we’ve all seen a picture with a click-path like:


Data stored within these files is organized and retrieved using a limited amount of metadata, which will tell your device exactly where the file is kept. Just like an old-school file cabinet, file-based storage can only scale so far, which is why it’s a good idea to know more about what different types of online file storage can offer.

Types of online file storage

There are four main types of file storage. The type you choose is going to depend on the speed and performance requirements that you need from your device, as well as what kind of files you need to store.

1. Traditional file storage

For decades, file storage has been a popular storage method for every computer user. It’s the go-to method for storing and organizing any transactional data, or managed structured data, that can be organized on a single server or a disk drive.

Because some businesses have struggled to manage increasing amounts of web-based digital content, as well as large amounts of unstructured data, other file storage techniques needed to access data in a different way.

This type of file storage is mainly used in two different ways:

  • Network Attached Storage (NAS): An autonomous storage system connected to the network and available to everyone within that network.
  • Direct Attached Storage (DAS): An external hard drive or disk connected to a computer that stores files.

Some common use cases for file storage include file sharing, data protection, and local archiving.

$78 billion

is the expected total for worldwide spending on data storage units in the United States in 2021.

Source: Statista

2. Block storage

If you want greater storage efficiency, go with block storage. It also offers faster performance than regular file storage.

Block storage works by breaking a file to equally sized parts, or blocks, of data and storing each of these blocks separately under a unique address or identifier.

Instead of utilizing a folder structure, blocks can be housed anywhere in the storage system. When you’re looking to access these files, the operating system within the server will use that unique address to pull the blocks back together into the file, sort of like putting together a puzzle.

Since block storage isn’t reliant on a single path to the data, like regular file storage, blocks of files can be retrieved quickly. This type of storage works well for critical business applications, virtual machines, databases, email servers, and anything that requires minimal delay.

There are some downsides of block storage, one being it can be expensive for organizations to implement. It also has limited capabilities in regards to handling metadata.

3. Object storage

For data archiving and backing up digital communications, unstructured media, and web content, choose object storage, also referred to as object-based storage. It’s also ideal for data that doesn’t change often, like music, image, or video files.

Objects are individual units of data that are stored in a flat data environment. In this case, there are no folders, directories, or complex hierarchies. Each object being stored consists of a simple repository with a unique identifying number, data, and metadata. All of this information together makes it possible for applications to locate and access the object.

With object storage, data can be stored locally, but typically are stored within cloud servers, making them accessible from anywhere at any time. It also provides customization possibilities and flexibility in the forms of moving objects to different areas of storage, deleting objects you no longer need, and customizing metadata.

Object storage is also ideal when growing companies consider scalability. It can be simple to scale object architecture by adding new nodes to the storage cluster, meaning you won’t run into capacity limits that can restrict other traditional storage systems.

Common use cases for object storage include big data, multimedia files, web applications, and backup archives.

$7 billion

is the forecasted net worth of the global market for information archiving in 2021.

Source: Statista

4. Cloud-based file storage

Cloud storage is the service model where data is maintained, managed, and backed up remotely. It is available to users over a network, like the internet, and has become incredibly popular as a way to share and store files.

This low-cost method of file storage reduces a company’s on-site IT infrastructure by ensuring data is always accessible whenever you need it. This is because you no longer will have to refresh your storage hardware every couple years or budget for maintenance of this hardware. Instead, you’ll be subscribed to cloud file storage software that offers data protection for a monthly or annual fee.

Popular use cases for cloud file storage include web serving applications, content management systems, big data analytics, and certain media and entertainment.

Choosing a type of online storage

Once you understand the different types of file storage, how do you choose the right one for your needs?

Regular file storage or block storage would be useful when dealing with a lot of data that members of your team need to change often. Block storage would be right for you if you need to store an organized collection of data that can be accessed quickly.

On the other hand, if you need highly scalable storage units for unstructured data, it’s best to go with object storage.

Benefits of file storage

When your business is in need of a centralized location for all of their files and folders, that can be accessed at any time, file storage is the right approach. There are many benefits that you’ll encounter when turning to online file storage.

  • Simplicity: First and foremost, file storage is simple and easy to use. This straightforward approach to organizing files on a hard drive and storing them in folders means it isn’t necessary to write code to access any of your data. If your needs for file storage are generally clear, such as storing and sharing files with team members, the simplicity is bound to come in handy.
  • File sharing: When all of your files are in a centralized location, they can be shared with anyone within the network that has appropriate permissions, which makes collaboration and teamwork easier than ever.
  • Data protection: Storing files on individual devices or within the cloud offers a level or protection if your computer were to experience a network failure. With data protection and disaster recovery, cloud file storage can replicate certain files across multiple data centers, so nothing is ever completely lost.
  • Affordability: No matter what type of file storage you go with, all are inexpensive methods with minimal maintenance and operation costs.
  • Accessibility: Thanks to online file storage, file sharing, and syncing, you can access your files from no matter where you are or what device you’re using.

A place for everything

While using file cabinets as a way to organize documents worked in the past, there’s a better way to store our files. From work documents to our favorite photos, making sure that our most important files are stored properly is easier than ever.

Discover the 10 best free cloud storage products to start streamlining your file collaboration abilities in a centralized online space.

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