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In this lesson you will learn about virtual storage. You will learn why it is used, the hardware or appliances that can be used to facilitate it and how virtual storage is managed.

How We Store Files

We used to store files on paper in a safe place, say a filing cabinet. Now most people have files saved in digital form on a computer.

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But even computer storage has its limits, and what if the computer is damaged? How else can we store files? Virtual storage is a very common answer.This whole business of cloud computing or virtual storage can be confusing – where are your files exactly when you save them to the cloud and how do they get there?

Cloud Computing
Cloud Computing

Why Use Virtual Storage?

Virtual storage began as a way to increase storage capacity for businesses.Let’s say a business has three workers who have their own work computers. Each of those computers has a finite amount of storage capability. What if each worker, while having the same amount of storage capacity, used a different amount of storage space for the things they do most often?

Separate Storage
Separate Work Stations
  • Worker 1 uses large applications and files and so uses almost all of the storage space on his/her computer.

    S/he is constantly looking for more space and has to store some things on portable storage devices such as CDs and USB sticks.

  • Worker 2 uses hardly any storage at all so the storage space on his/her computer is untouched and basically a waste. It would make sense for Worker 1 to be able to use the leftovers from Worker 2.
  • Worker 3 uses about half of the storage space available on his/her computer. Worker 1 should be able to use that extra space.

Making all available storage capacity available to every user is what virtual storage is all about: using and accessing storage that is not limited to an individual computer.

Shared Storage
Shared storage

Virtual storage can ease frustration like that of Worker 1, but it can also save the company money. Instead of investing in more storage for each computer individually or paying for more portable storage media, the company can purchase a separate storage area that all three workers can access. The company saves money in the long run while increasing productivity.

Cloud Storage

So how does it work? Well, companies or individuals can contract with a third party that runs a virtual storage appliance. A virtual storage appliance, called a controller, is the hardware that allows multiple computers to share storage among themselves instead of adding more storage to individual computers.

If a business is only interested in increasing their local storage capability, they can use a Virtual Storage Area Network (SAN) Appliance. The SAN hardware allows access to shared storage that can be used locally as needed. This would be an ideal solution if a company didn’t want their employees to access data from other locations.Another virtual storage appliance is a Cloud Storage Appliance. The cloud refers to an off site server where people can save their files and therefore free up local storage space. Because the data is now available with an internet connection, anyone in the company can access the files from anywhere, like their home computer or an internet coffee shop. While cloud storage can be used for many things, file storage is probably the most common.

There are a large number of cloud service providers like Google Drive and Dropbox who maintain the hardware necessary to facilitate virtual storage in a cloud.

A word cloud showing various virtual storage providers
Cloud Computing: Providers Word Cloud

There is a lot of debate about where the term ‘cloud computing’ came from. One possible explanation was offered by Antonio Regalado who found evidence that NetCentric, a now defunct software company, coined the term in the 1990s.

Virtual Storage Management

Each individual and each company must decide for itself how it will manage or use virtual storage. The three main uses of virtual storage are primary, archive, and backup.

  • Primary storage saves all current work so it can be shared with multiple people or multiple devices.

  • Archive storage saves data that is no longer current, but still needs to be kept just in case it is ever needed again.
  • Backup storage saves duplicates of files that are stored locally as well, just in case that data is corrupted or local computers are damaged by a fire or other mishap.

Lesson Summary

Virtual storage extends the storage capacity of an individual computer and allows multiple users to share storage space. Storing and sharing accessible information offsite can increase productivity and save on overall cost for storage. The term ‘cloud computing’ may have been coined in the 1990s and many third parties offer cloud storage as a service.

Some of the uses for virtual storage include primary storage, backup, and archiving data.

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