Before personal computers, when people thought of file storage, the first thing that came to mind were file cabinets for storing folders and papers. Instead of saving documents as files, people typed them up. A typewritten document was the only copy that existed. That is, until someone made copies of it.

File storage

File Storage from Hard Drives to Media

With the advent of computers, typed documents turned into files. The earlier personal computers saved these files on disks. People inserted these disks into a computer disk drive and save the files there. They could organize the files by creating folders and subfolders.

The disks allowed people to share files much like today’s USB drives. Unfortunately, if people wanted to share the files, they’d have to physically deliver the disk or USB drive to the recipient. It also became a problem because computer viruses could transport from computer to computer through the sharing of media.

Eventually, hard drives got cheaper and could hold more data. People used them for file storage. Instead of sharing files on a physical storage medium, they shared them electronically by email. The downside of this approach was that if someone wasn’t at the computer housing the needed file, then no one could access the file.

Online File Storage

This led to the evolution of local file storage to online file storage also known as cloud storage. Contrary to the cloud name, these files aren’t floating in the air. They do, however, live on a hard drive. It’s not on a person’s local computer’s hard drive.

Think of online file storage as a centralized place for files. Because its servers are accessible from any connected device, anyone can get to it. Well, not just anyone can access the files in cloud storage. For security’s sake, cloud storage providers offer multiple access options. Two of the more common options are logging in and sharing via a unique link.

Cloud storage allows people to share files without emailing them or saving them to a USB drive. That’s why companies are investing heavily in cloud storage. Their employees can collaborate without barriers that come with local file storage.

Different Types of File Storage

File storage on your computer’s hard drive uses hierarchically nested folders to organize files in folders. This is called file-level storage. The top-level folder holds the most files and sub-folders.

For instance, Windows computers have a folder called Documents. Most people create sub-folders in the Documents folder. Imagine saving every single created file to Documents. It would make it harder to find files. A person may create a sub-folder for work and another for home. This helps separate work files from personal files. And each folder can have multiple sub-folders to further organize files.

File-level storage is the simplest of all file storage types. But it’s not efficient for businesses with their much larger processing requirements. With multiple people saving their files and running apps, businesses need a different type of file storage. It may be block storage or object-based storage.

Block storage stores data in fixed-size blocks. Each block is like a hard drive. This allows large-scale storage systems like storage area networks (SANs) to achieve higher levels of performance. Block-level storage is the Rolls-Royce of storage. It’s fast and it’s expensive.

Like its name implies, object-based storage stores data as objects in scalable buckets. It’s ideal for big files like images and videos as well as unstructured big data, analytics, and archiving. While it’s affordable and scales well, it can sacrifice performance.

Choosing the Right File Storage

The definition of file storage has come a long way. It started with the physical kind of file storage like containers or cabinets housing folders and documents. It has evolved from media storage to cloud storage. Every company has different needs. Selecting the right type of file storage depends on cost, performance, use case, and scalability requirements.

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