Implementing Server Storage On The BlockIt used to be that when businesses needed to provision large amounts of storage (to store server data, for example), they’d need to requisition and pay for huge server instances, even if the capacity and compute power far exceeded their needs. But with the advent of the cloud, organizations now can allocate block storage to exactly fit their needs, regardless of the size of their cloud server.

Block storage can be a powerful backend storage solution for data derived from content management systems, e-mail systems, for information archiving, or as a storage backend for Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) vendors, said Rackspace’s Chuck Thier. Instead of buying a hard drive or a whole new cloud server, you can buy the space you need on-demand.

And block storage is also a great option for storing and analyzing the mountains of information – also known as Big Data – too large to be contained and analyzed in traditional storage infrastructure; transaction records, social media usage information, device usage, and the like, said Eric Slack, senior analyst for Storage Switzerland.

There are two options for cloud block storage depending on what type of information you need to store. Standard SATA volumes are the go-to for organizations looking to safely store documents, files, images, and logs, Thier said. If, however, you need back-end storage for a database server or have a high-performance application that performs random reads/writes, the option is available for a Solid-State Drive (SSD), Thier said. The option to use an SSD is much more efficient and effective than purchasing several standard volumes and chaining them together as a RAID. One SSD can equal the performance of several standard drives, he said.

There’s a third, hybrid option that allows users to attach both SSD and SATA volumes to the same servers. This setup can accommodate businesses that want to tailor a custom solution to their needs, Thier said.

“With Cloud Block Storage, you can attach both SSD and Standard volumes to the same servers. So for the applications that might need faster indexing, you could put those indexes on the SSD volumes while you put your more persistent data (that data that just rests) on your Standard volumes,” he said.

Once you’ve determined which Cloud Block Storage option is right for you, keep in mind these three best practices, provided by Rackspace.

Know What you need and Why:

Thier points out that it’s important to understand the difference between throughput and random I/O so you know what type of block storage is best for your organization. “While throughput is very important for writing sequential data to your drives — logging, streaming data or basic file access – throughput is roughly the same for both SATA and SSD drives,” he said. If that’s all you need, then sticking with a standard volume SATA solution is the way to go.

Random I/O is a different story, he said. For applications like databases and NoSQL servers that much quickly write data to random parts of a disk, speed is essential. In this case, an SSD offering will make much more sense, Thier said.

Know when to Implement RAID:

There’s no reason to implement a RAID array unless you need to, Thier said. If you are in a High Availability (HA) environment and your data must be available at any time, then set up a RAID array as you would with a dedicated environment, he said, “usually in a mirrored configuration, to help provide extra redundancy and durability. This means that if a drive goes away or fails, you can easily replicate your data and replace another drive in the RAID array,” Thier said.

Back up Your Data

Finally, whether you are using RAID or not, it is always a good idea to back up your data. You can use Rackspace Cloud Files to create a durable backup, and – bonus! – you can use those backups to make new volumes in the future. You also can use Cloud Backup to make a file-level backup of your entire block device for recovery purposes in the event of a disaster.

Sharon Florentine is a freelance writer who covers everything from holistic veterinary care to data center technology and occasionally blogs for cloud provider Rackspace Hosting.