Chris Hathaway, Founder and Director of Soarsoft International and Cloud Essentials, introduces the newest addition to Microsoft’s Azure Blob Storage tiers and explores some ways to maximise its use as long-term, low-touch archiving.
With legislation like POPI and EU-GDPR forcing enterprises to polish up their retention and governance policies, many businesses are searching for more cost-effective ways to store large volumes of low-access data over the long term.
The cloud has certainly simplified the process, but uploading high object count workloads like emails, files and transactional records still tends to have a relatively high initial activity cost. Until recently, this outlay has not always been entirely offset by the reduced monthly costs of cold storage options, but Microsoft Azure’s newly available Archive Storage tier may finally do just that.
The 3 Tiers of Microsoft Azure Blob Storage
Azure’s storage options were previously divided into two, simple but effective tiers: Hot and Cool. These are, of course, still available and remain great options for certain use cases.
Hot storage is optimised for data that is accessed on a regular basis, providing quick and responsive read, write and other functionality. It’s ideal for everyday work and active projects, and can also be used for staging and processing data for migration to other storage tiers.
Cool storage is optimised for less-frequently accessed data, and has a minimum storage period of one month. Access speeds and availability are a little lower than Hot Storage which allows for more affordable monthly fees. Activity costs (read and write operations), on the other hand, are more expensive, but balance out with the reduced monthly fees if the tier is used as intended.
What are those intended uses? Think datasets like short-term backups and disaster recovery that aren’t regularly accessed, but need to be readily available on short notice. Data being temporarily held or collected (but not actively used) is also a good Cool Storage candidate, as are media files and documents that are accessed, but only infrequently.
While Cool Storage is optimised for infrequent data access, Archive Storage is best suited to long-term retention data that sees little to no access requirements. It has a minimum storage period of 180 days (with early deletion penalties) and latency in the order of hours, but reduces storage costs dramatically in the long term.
As with cool storage, there is a trade-off between the low long-term costs of the Archive tier and its relatively high activity fees – the highest of all Azure’s blob storage for read and write operations. For purposes like legal retention where data is unlikely to require much access beyond its initial upload and eventual deletion, however, the long-term savings generally outweigh the initial activity fees by a significant margin.
How does the new Archive tier fit into Azure Blob Storage Accounts?
While Hot and Cool Storage tiers have, to date, been supported at both account and blob level, the release of the Archive tier brings with it a new feature called blob-level tiering. This allows accounts to support a combination of all three tiers, set at object rather than account level. It’s a more flexible setup that makes switching tiers at blob level quite easy, although penalties for changes inside the minimum storage periods of the Cool and Archive tiers may apply.
How to get the best from Blob Storage across all 3 tiers
The trick to using Azure’s Blob Storage Accounts effectively – and cost-effectively – lies in accurately assessing and reacting to data usage patterns to assign blobs to the most appropriate tier as efficiently as possible.
Luckily, there are tools that make this a remarkably simple and seamless process. HubStor is a great example and a solution that we frequently implement at Cloud Essentials and Soarsoft International.
HubStor for Blob Storage Management
Using metadata to find and analyse data based on a variety of criteria including corporate governance policies, HubStor can de-duplicate, defensibly delete ROT, compress and automatically assign blobs to their ideal storage tiers. This minimises overall storage requirements and reduces monthly storage fees and activity costs while ensuring legislative and corporate data governance requirements are upheld.
As an added bonus, HubStor can also extract insights from data stored across all three Azure Blob Storage tiers. This is particularly advantageous because it means clients can query, analyse and manage data in the Cool and Archive tiers without requiring rehydration, enabling enterprises to retain visibility into their data regardless of its storage tier without the high activity costs of read or write operations.