Hot Storage vs Cold Data Storage

July 23, 2020

What’s the difference? Hot and Cold Data Storage

“Hot storage” and “cold storage” are common data management terms, however, their exact definitions can often be ambiguous.

There’s no hard and fast definition for each term. And while companies use the terms differently, the general meaning tends to stay the same.

What is hot storage?

Hot data storage refers to stored data that’s delivered quickly and is readily available for immediate use in day-to-day business activities. Hot storage holds data that needs to be available right away.

What is cold storage?

Cold storage refers to stored data that’s seldom accessed and typically has slow retrieval times. This data isn’t accessible at a moment’s notice from the provider.

Using temperature to describe the different types of data storage likely came from how data used to be stored. Data that was used right away was held on spinning hard drives, while data that wasn’t often needed was kept physically on tapes and disks away from daily activities in storage. The actual temperature of these storage mediums would have been hot and cold, respectively.

Seeing where the temperature terminology may have started can give us an insight into why there’s ambiguity today on the usage of the terms. Both hot and cold data storage have dramatically evolved in the past decades. All types of data storage have “warmed up” and even cold storage today is significantly more accessible than in the days of tape. But, the terminology remains.

While uncommon for major data storage providers to store your data on tape; the hot and cold terminology remains a common way to describe different storage tiers, speeds, and offerings. Understanding more about these terms can be helpful in understanding and comparing various storage providers.

Hot Storage

Today, hot storage refers to the “hot data” you and your business need immediately. This data is vital to daily operations and actions. There can be little to no delay, and it often needs to be accessed by many people, sometimes simultaneously.

Providing this kind of availability and access requires expensive, high-grade storage technology, both in software and hardware. Hot storage requires costly and powerful servers. Many businesses choose to outsource this server management due to the cost, upkeep, and maintenance of such systems.

Examples of modern hot storage solutions include Microsoft’s Azure Blob Storage, Amazon S3, and Google Cloud Storage. These platforms are famously expensive.

Regardless of what kind of hardware is chosen, be it solid-state drives, or traditional hard drives, hot data storage demands lightning-fast and consistent response times.

Cold Storage

Not all data needs to be accessed with regularity. Old financial records, legal and HR documents, and other historical data needs to be maintained but are seldom – if ever – accessed. For this “cold data,” cold storage is the recommended course of action.

Cold storage prices are usually much lower than active, hot storage. It’s typically retrieved so infrequently that users have monthly costs for storage and an additional retrieval cost per set of requests. Often, uploading is free.

For example, if you were trying to store ten terabytes of data, Amazon Glacier will allow you to upload data for free. The stored data rate currently sits at 0.4 cents per gigabyte per month and will run you $40 a month. If you were trying to store the same amount of data in Amazon S3 Standard, you would pay $230 a month. This means that Amazon Glacier storage is 82.6% cheaper than their comparable hot storage. But, if you wanted an expedited export of all ten terabytes, it would cost $300 in expedited retrieval fees alone.

With the distance and inaccessibility of cold storage data, the term is sometimes used to describe storage models that are purely offline. Physical hard drives and disks that are stored in an offsite data center and require physical retrieval to access.

Warming Up

It’s important to remember that not every data storage platform sits squarely into a hot/cold comparison. In fact, most data storage systems are somewhere in between.

As newer technologies, hardware, and software are adopted, the baseline performance for “inexpensive data storage” rises. Today, there are many storage solutions that offer partial higher-end, hot storage features at a lower cost. These “warm data storage” options are becoming increasingly popular, and many businesses are choosing to move away from cold, archival storage altogether in favor of low cost, mid-tier, options from cloud data storage providers.

Unique Businesses, Unique Solutions

Every business today creates data, and every business will need to address how to store its data. Exactly which solution is the best fit for you depends on your cost limits, data needs, and complexity.

If you’d like to learn more about our low-cost hot-storage option, Polycloud Standard, or our cold storage option, Polycloud Archive, you can learn more here.

Have questions? Reach out, and we’ll get in touch!