Cloud Storage and the BLOB Era

Uploading information to the cloud can be a good way to keep it safe. However, it’s often important to organize that information so that you can easily recover it when you need it. Separate files can be located by putting them in alphanumeric order, but sometimes you need more. For example, if you’re storing records with contact information, you might want to identify all the people who live in a certain town. Or if you have a catalog of products and prices, you might want to create a list of all products within a certain fixed price range, defined by an upper maximum and a lower minimum. What solutions exist to makes sense of it all?

The Database

A database is a collection of data arranged in a certain way. Databases can be virtually any size. Some of them are huge: imagine a database with social security information on every individual person living in a country like the US. These databases can be held in cloud storage too. Database management software then allows you to query the database to get the precise information you want, and to add to, modify or delete the data held. When you use a search engine for example, you are effectively querying a very large online database via your browser.

 Structure of the Information

Traditionally, databases have been defined in a very precise, ordered way. The databases can then establish relationships between the different pieces of data. This works well in cases such as publishing catalogs, spare parts listings, tax information and other information systematically organized in the same way. Information is typically stored and retrieved using commands in a structured query language, or SQL for short. Holding such databases in cloud storage means the database is protected thanks to the resilience of the cloud provider’s infrastructure.

 Big Data and the BLOB

However, more and more data are being created, especially in the cloud, with less and less well-defined structure. This is part of the ‘Big Data’ phenomenon that is in the news today. Examples of such ‘free form’ data include social networking pages and customer interactions with a company’s website or e-commerce site. IT has a term for any big chunk of data that doesn’t fit any predefined pattern. It’s called a BLOB – a ‘binary large object’. But how can such variable blocks of information be stored if the conventional relational databases expect all data to conform to their rigid expectations?

 New Forms of Cloud Storage

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Because the older style of database (the relational one) can’t handle BLOBs well, new kinds of databases have been invented for this. The first way of handling Big Data and its BLOBs couldn’t be much simpler. The database management system just assigns a unique reference or key value to the BLOB and stores it using that one key value. This kind of database is referred to as a ‘NoSQL Key Value Database’, where ‘NoSQL’ means ‘not only SQL’.

 What Will Happen Next?

Big Data will keep on growing. The total amount of unstructured data will grow faster than those neatly ordered catalogs, customer billing records and other structured data. The new ‘NoSQL’ types of databases will gain wider acceptance. However, relational databases with their SQL will continue to be part of the picture because they can still do things that the NoSQL databases cannot. So look forward to a diverse selection of cloud storage possibilities when it comes to databases, and pick the one that best meets your needs.