What is blob storage?

Blob storage is a highly scalable way to store unstructured data in the cloud using data lakes.

Learning Objectives

After reading this article you will be able to:

  • Define Binary Large Object (blob)
  • Understand blob storage and object storage
  • Describe the advantages of blob storage

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What is blob storage?

Blob storage is a type of cloud storage for unstructured data. A "blob," which is short for Binary Large Object, is a mass of data in binary form that does not necessarily conform to any file format. Blob storage keeps these masses of data in non-hierarchical storage areas called data lakes.

Imagine Alice stores her clothes in curated outfits that are ready to be worn, while Bob simply tosses his clothes into a pile. Bob's method is more like blob storage: any item of clothing can go into his pile, and the clothes do not have to be organized in any particular way. Bob's method is advantageous in that he can quickly and almost endlessly grow his pile of clothes: he can just toss more on, instead of folding and organizing them like Alice.

Even though Bob's clothing storage method makes it more difficult to quickly locate specific clothing items, many organizations need a similar data storage approach. They have a lot of data, and they need to store large volumes of it without organizing it into a hierarchy or fitting it into a given format.

Blob storage enables developers to build data lakes for cloud-based and mobile applications. Blob storage is particularly useful for storing media, large file backups, and data logs. But it can be used for anything — even files that might typically go into a more hierarchical database.

What is object storage?

Blob storage is a type of object storage. Object storage keeps files or blobs in a flat "data lake" or "pool" with no hierarchy; a data lake/pool is a large collection of unstructured data. Object storage contrasts with file storage and block storage:

  • File storage keeps data in a hierarchical file structure of folders, directories, subdirectories, and so on
  • Block storage keeps data in similarly sized volumes of data called "blocks"

File and block storage are often not flexible enough or scalable enough for modern organizations. By contrast, object storage is so scalable that some consider it to be "unlimited" storage. However, using object storage instead of file or block storage can make data retrieval more complicated.

What is a blob?

A Binary Large Object (blob) is a collection of data of an arbitrary size. Blobs do not have to follow a given format or have any metadata associated with them. They are a series of bytes, with each byte made up of 8 bits (a 1 or a 0, hence the "binary" descriptor). Any type of data can go in a blob.

In some implementations, blobs are stored in containers. A container is a section of a computer's user space environment that has been partitioned off from the rest of the computer. Containers are a widespread form of cloud computing. As the name implies, containers are self-contained — they store all dependencies they need, in addition to whatever files and applications they hold. Learn more about containers.

What are the advantages of blob storage?

Scalable: Blob storage capacity is practically unlimited. And as the amount of stored data grows, it remains easy and fast to save data for later retrieval.

Cloud-native: Blob storage is hosted in the cloud. This makes blob storage a natural fit for organizations building in or migrating to the cloud. This also means blob storage can be accessed from any location via the Internet, as is the case with all cloud services.

Programming language agnostic: Blob storage providers usually allow developers to use a wide range of languages to access their blobs.

Cost-effective: Blob storage usually has tiered pricing. Data that is rarely accessed is in a much cheaper tier, meaning large amounts of data can be stored more cheaply overall if most of it is not accessed regularly.

What use cases are best for blob storage?

Some of the major use cases for blob storage include:

  • Media: Image, video, and audio data take up a lot of space, and sometimes needs to be stored but not necessarily accessed regularly.
  • Logs: As software executes, it constantly creates a series of events that can be recorded in logs for later analysis. The volume of this data can increase quickly. Blob storage enables quick and cheap storage of this data in an unstructured form. However, blob storage is less cost-effective for this use case. Any query of log data will cost egress fees.
  • Backups and disaster recovery: Most organizations need to keep complete backups, particularly for recovering from ransomware attacks. As this data is duplicated in production and rarely accessed, blob storage is well-suited for backing up large data sets.

How does blob storage relate to key-value storage?

Key-value storage is a method for finding objects in a database or data lake, in which each object is given a unique "key" to identify it. A key-value approach is a good fit for object storage and blob storage because the search mechanism does not need to know anything about the value, or object, it is searching for. (In contrast, file storage searches by fields, metadata, etc.) All it needs to find the value is the object's associated key.

Cloudflare Workers KV enables developers building serverless applications to use key-value storage. Read the Workers KV documentation to learn more.

Are there security risks associated with blob storage?

Any kind of cloud storage needs to be protected from data leakage, breaches, and unauthorized access. Blob storage vendors provide some level of protection, but often cloud security configurations are left to the customer. Strong cloud security implementations are essential for keeping blob storage secure.

Learn more about cloud security.

Does Cloudflare offer object storage?

Cloudflare R2 Storage allows developers to store large amounts of unstructured data. R2 offers data retrieval without data egress fees, making it far more cost-effective than many other types of cloud storage. Learn more about Cloudflare R2 Storage.