Azure Storage - Basics

Posted on:23/11/2013

When we see the word storage in an IT / computers related article, we think of storing data. A traditional storage system till recently, was and still is, about buying a hard disk and storing data in a specific location.

Azure storage is the mechanism which Microsoft provides to store data on the cloud. The obvious question that arises is what are the differences between traditional storage system and cloud storage system. There are a lot of differences and so this post. I will be writing a series of articles after this one, which will help a novice programmer to understand Storage and how to use it in their existing applications, whether the application is located on-premises or is a hosted application. Thinking of it, this topic actually deserves a separate book.

The most important point to note here is Azure Storage is available as a service. When I say service, two aspects should be noted. One, you as a user should be aware that you have no control physically, where you store your data. The next point to note is that you can access the Azure data with only an internet connection. You use this service and discard when not needed. Remember, any client – desktop, smart phone, websites, can access this service.

Many people refer to Microsoft Cloud Storage as Azure Storage, even though this is a service. Microsoft would like you to remember Azure storage as a service. Service as in a telephone service or internet broadband service, where you subscribe for the service and then you pay as you go along. You will have probably realized by now that you pay for a service as you use it which can be forever!

Azure Storage Services



Every application needs to store its data into some storage system for later access. Some applications are developed to store and retrieve enormous/large amounts of different types of data. For example, data can be blobs – binary large objects, videos, large size backup files, audio files, data can be structured but not relational etc. Windows Azure Storage service provides different services to store different types of data.

They are
  1. Table Storage service - used to store structured but not relational data (No SQL data)
  2. Blob Storage service - used to store audio, video, backup files and zip files
  3. Queue service - used for messages to decouple the application components


I will discuss each service separately, in the coming articles.

Windows Azure Storage is REST based

Most database/ .Net programmers know how to work with SQL server database. SQL server is Relational Database Management system and is used to store relational data and is based on TDS (tabular Data Protocol). But Windows Azure Storage is based on REST (Representational State Transfer). A simple explanation of REST is given below. Any service which can be accessed with an internet connection (using HTTP/HTTPS protocol) is REST based. So, any client which can establish an internet connection can avail this service.

Using Windows Azure Services We need to create Windows Azure Storage Account to access the storage services. When we subscribe to an account, we are allowed to create a Storage account from the management portal. All the data blobs, tables and queues are stored in this Storage Account. An account can hold any number of tables, blobs and queues but not exceeding 100TB (now upgraded to 200 TB). Note that for one single subscription we can only create 5 storage accounts.

cloud azure storage three services

Benefits - Why use Windows Azure storage

Fault-tolerance:

This storage service is highly reliable as data is replicated three times in the same data center. This ensures that if there is a hardware failure in one machine there are copies available.

Geo-replication:

This data is replicated in data centers worldwide to provide additional security.

REST and availability:

As mentioned above, this service can be accessed from anywhere.

Content Delivery Network:

Content is cached near the user thus providing a boost in performance.

Price:

It’s insanely cheap storage compared to traditional storage for the same amounts of data.

Summary

Azure storage is convenient, super efficient, reliable, available always anywhere, cheap and versatile.