The most commonly used storage systems that you are probably familiar with are filesystem storage (commonly deployed as Network Attached Storage, short NAS) and block level storage.

  • Filesystem storage is used for transferring individual files over a network to or from the storage. In a file system, files are organized in a hierarchical way, so that an individual file can be located by describing the path to that file. Network-attached storage (NAS) is a great way to share files securely among users on a network — it works well on a local network for a large number of files, but not so well over the Internet, and managing billions of files.

  • Block storage appears to the system and the user as attached drives. A Block is a chunk of data which may contain several files. Block storage is the type of storage that is required for running things like databases, or as a storage required by applications (e.g. your data analysis software) which frequently access and write files.

Both of these storage types do not efficiently scale up. However, block storage may still be essential to your research application it is required for fast and efficient access from within applications; Many traditional applications only support file access in simple block storage systems. A more scalable system has been designed which is better suited for Big Data demands: The Object Storage which is based on the principle of filesystem storage.

Altogether, there are three different types of cloud storage available to you on the NeCTAR Research Cloud:

  • On-Instance storage — this comes with your instance and is “ephemeral”: any files disappear when the VM is terminated (completely shut down, or “deleted”). You may treat this storage as block storage. This storage is limited in size. There are two on-instance storage disks: The primary and secondary disk.

  • Volume storage — this is persistent, expandable storage that can be attached to a VM like one or more virtual hard disks. It is independent of a VM.

  • Object storage — individual data files can be uploaded to the object store and accessed from the VM or from anywhere via the web (e.g. using a web browser). Files are replicated across several physical locations in order to achieve good data integrity, protect against data loss and ensure fast access.

The storage system is shared among instances. Not all storage is created equal, and the different types of storage differ according to performance, persistence and data safety.

This summary table provides a comparison of various data storage features.


  1. Saved in snapshot: You may save the state of your instance with a “snapshot”. However a snapshot does not include all types of storage.

  2. Data Integrity: how exposed your data is to hardware errors.

  3. Access: there are two methods of access: either as a BLOCK level device (like attaching a hard drive to a computer) or HTTP where you use a client to GET or POST objects.

  4. Backed up: is where there is a recoverable copy of a file available after a file is updated, deleted or damaged. Backup typically refers to maintaining a completely separate backup system, where, for example, the backup system runs nightly and takes an incremental backup of any new data.

As you can see, none of the data is backed up, so you will have to do backups yourself, which is subject to Module 9. However, Object Storage has a high data integrity, which is a form of protection against data loss as well.