Azure Storage Options and Costs from A to Z

January 12 2016 | by Yoav Mor

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More and more companies, including the world’s largest enterprises, are jumping on the progressive cloud adoption bandwagon, proving that cloud storage is an emerging market. Microsoft recently announced that Azure File Storage will be available to the public, which puts its storage solution on par with the current prowess of AWS. In general, there are four Azure Storage options that are labeled blobs, files, tables, and queues, each of which is data type specific. In this article, we will mainly focus on the first three types seeing as queues are used to send messages between applications and are less relevant for this post.

Azure Storage Redundancy Levels

Before going into detail about the various azure storage options, let’s first look at the different redundancy levels that Azure Storage offers:

  • Local redundant storage (LRS)
  • Zone redundant storage (ZRS)
  • Geographically redundant storage (GRS)
  • Geographically redundant storage with read access (RA-GRS)

LRS involves creating three copies of data within a single data center, which offers no protection against data center outages. ZRS stores three copies of data across multiple data centers throughout a region but is only applicable to object storage with block blobs. The next highest redundancy option, GRS, distributes six copies of data evenly throughout two data centers in two separate regions. This option protects against natural disaster scenarios that can affect a whole region. The last and highest redundancy option, RA-GRS, is a modification of GRS in that users have immediate read access to redundant copies in case of a disaster.

Azure Standard Storage

Azure Blobs
There are two types of blobs, page blobs and block blobs. Page blobs provide persistent block storage and are Azure’s answer to Amazon’s EBS. Block blobs provide object storage, similar to the S3 service in AWS. All of the data is stored in a flat architecture in a single container with tags and metadata that are used to identify, retrieve and manipulate data.

Pricing up to your first TB: Azure uses two dimension pricing according to your amount of data and redundancy level. With page blobs, the LRS option costs $0.05/GB and the GRS option costs $0.095/GB. There is no ZRS option for page blobs, however there is a premium azure storage option based on SSDs with provisioned IOPS and low latency. The premium option is broken into three non-elastic options based on a storage size that ranges from 128GB to 1TB and provisioned resources. With block blobs, the LRS option costs $0.024/GB, the ZRS option costs $0.03/GB, and the GRS option costs $0.048/GB.

Microsoft’s Azure storage pricing is based on the amount of data you want to store and various redundancy options. Therefore, page blobs are priced between $0.05/GB per month (for LRS) and $0.095/GB per month (for GRS) for the first TB.

Azure Premium Storage
Page blobs are the only storage option in which Azure offers “Premium Storage”, by providing SSD-based storage with provisioned IOPS and low latency. It’s offered in three non-elastic sizes of 128GB, 512GB and 1TB. Their pricing is based on a flat monthly fee, regardless of the actual amount of storage that is consumed.

Azure File Storage
Azure’s File Storage offers a continuous availability storage option that rivals Amazon’s EFS. File Storage can be shared among multiple VMs in order to run critical cloud applications as well as share data between local and cloud servers. Additionally, File Storage helps bridge the gap between legacy and modern applications through Azure’s REST API. Pricing is broken down into two tiers, one that is locally redundant at $0.08/GB and one that is geographically redundant at $0.10/GB. Check out the Azure File Storage pricing page to learn more.

Azure DBaaS

Azure File Storage supports both SQL and NoSQL database types.

Azure SQL DBaaS offers SQL-based relational data management. While this service is an Azure-specific database management service, Microsoft claims that it is compatible with its popular “SQL Server”. Azure SQL is priced according to database throughput units (DTUs), a Microsoft-created metric claimed to be a unified measure for a typical set of database transactions (or however many transactions can be completed per second under fully loaded conditions). The full spectrum of DTUs can be found here. There are two options in Azure SQL: elastic databases and single databases, both of which have basic, standard and premium tiers.

With the elastic option, your database automatically scales up and down to meet demand, allowing you to use pools of storage that are charged by the hour. For example, using standard 100 eDTUs and 100GB per pool will cost you $0.30/hr. The single option is an isolated database that allows users to scale between the different tiers with a maximum storage per tier. With that option, for example, you can use P1 (P stands for premium tier) with 125 DTUs at a cost of $0.625/hr with a maximum storage of 500GB. Point-in-time restoration varies from seven days in the basic tier to 35 days in the premium tier.

To learn more, check out the DBaaS options offered by Azure.

Azure NoSQL
On the NoSQL side, we have the Azure Table storage option. Azure Table is essentially an XML based NoSQL key-value store. It is used mainly for storing data without having the ability to query and process it, such as storing key value documents in an XML format. Pricing is based on locally and geographically redundant storage options ranging from $0.07/GB/month to $0.95/GB/month for up to the first TB. The more you store, the less you pay per GB.

Another NoSQL option is DocumentDB, which acts like a managed JSON database. DocumentDB is similar to Amazon’s DynamoDB service. Pricing is broken up into three offerings called collections that are labeled ‘S1’, ‘S2’, and ‘S3’. All three options offer up to 10GB of SSD storage and their cost is measured in Request Units (RUs), another metric created by Microsoft that measures performance and speed. The price here varies between $0.034/hr and $0.134/hr for each type of collection.

Final Note

With Microsoft’s new offering, competition with Amazon is reignited, both in terms of pricing and innovation. As we continue into the future of cloud computing, we hope this competition will fuel the creation of better cloud technologies.

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