Today's Azure Storage

Azure’s storage offerings have advanced considerably in the last couple years. I am excited to summarize some of the changes and new features now offered.

Azure File

Azure File was made generally available in September of 2015. With Azure File Storage, Microsoft offers a fully managed file share solution in the Azure cloud. Azure File Storage exposes file shares using the Server Message Block (SMB) 3.0 protocol and it simplifies moving existing file shares and applications to Azure. SMB 3.0 provides end-to-end encryption and an AES based signing algorithm. Azure File Storage allows applications to mount file shares from anywhere in the world, and applications can take advantage of cloud storage without change. In addition to SMB 3.0 support, Azure File offers a web portal for file access. Azure File was built to always be available. Replacing on-premises file shares with Azure Files means you no longer have to wake up to deal with local power outages or network issues.

Azure File Sync

Azure File Sync was made generally available as of July 19th, 2018. Azure File Sync (in conjunction with Azure File) provides secure, centralized Windows Server file share management in the cloud. The File Sync agent is installed on Windows Servers. Azure File Sync allows less frequently accessed files to be stored in the Microsoft Azure cloud, while keeping more frequently accessed data on local file shares, and will be able to deliver consistent file share performance with no configuration or code changes. Centralizing file share management with Azure File Sync will also lower the IT support requirements for branch or remote office locations including centralized backup and multi-site replication.

Azure Blob Storage

Azure Blob Storage is Microsoft's object storage solution for the cloud. Blob storage is optimized for storing massive amounts of unstructured data, such as text or binary data. Blob storage is an ideal solution for serving images direct utilized with Azure Virtual Machines to a browser or web application, files for distributed access, streaming media, etc. Azure Blob Storage is one of the initial services offered with the release of Microsoft Azure.

Blob Storage Access Tiers

Azure storage offers three storage tiers for Blob object storage so that you can store data cost-effectively depending on how you use it. The Azure hot storage tier is optimized for storing data that is accessed frequently. The Azure cool storage tier is optimized for storing data that is infrequently accessed and stored for at least 30 days. The Azure archive storage tier is optimized for storing data that is rarely accessed and stored for at least 180 days. To manage costs for expanding storage needs, it's helpful to organize data based on attributes like frequency-of-access and planned retention period.

Azure Blob Storage Lifecycle Management

Azure Blob Storage Lifecycle Management was released for public preview on June 12th, 2018. Azure Blob Storage lifecycle management offers a rule-based policy that can be utilized to automatically transition data to the best access Blob Storage Access Tier and to expire data at the end of its lifecycle.

Azure Disk

Azure Disk Storage is a special type of Azure Blob Storage designed to host a special type of VHD file stored as a “page blob" that is utilized by Azure Virtual Machines. There are three performance tiers for storage to choose from when creating your disks; Premium SSD, Standard SSD, and Standard HDD Storage. Also, there are two types of disks; unmanaged and managed. Azure Managed Disks simplifies disk management for VMs by managing the storage accounts associated with the VM disks. You only need to specify the type and the size of the disk. Azure creates and manages the disk. Managed Disks handles storage for you in the background. Previously, you had to create your own storage accounts where the disks (VHD files) for your VMs were being stored. When scaling up, you had to ensure you created additional storage accounts, so you didn't exceed the IOPS limit for storage with any of your disks. with Managed Disks taking care of your storage needs, you are no longer limited by storage account limits.

The Big Decision

Microsoft has an excellent article to help decide which Azure Storage service to utilize, and I will summarize it here. 

When to use Azure File: 

You want to "lift and shift" an application to the cloud which already uses the native file system APIs to share data between it and other applications running in Azure. You want to store development and debugging tools that need to be accessed from many virtual machines.

When to use Azure Blobs: 

You want your application to support streaming and random-access scenarios. You want to be able to access application data from anywhere.

When to use Azure Disks: 

You want to lift and shift applications that use native file system APIs to read and write data to persistent disks. You want to store data that is not required to be accessed from outside the virtual machine to which the disk is attached.

By:  Orion Withrow

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