What is cloud file storage?

Cloud file storage is a method for storing data in the cloud that provides servers and applications access to data through shared file systems. This compatibility makes cloud file storage ideal for workloads that rely on shared file systems and provides simple integration without code changes.

What is a cloud file system?

A cloud file system is a hierarchical storage system in the cloud that provides shared access to file data. Users can create, delete, modify, read, and write files, as well as organize them logically in directory trees for intuitive access.

What is cloud file sharing?

Cloud file sharing is a service that provides simultaneous access for multiple users to a common set of files stored in the cloud. Security for online file storage is managed with user and group permissions so that administrators can control access to the shared file data.

How does cloud file storage help with collaboration?

Cloud file storage allows team members to access, view, and edit the same files in near, real-time, and simultaneously, from virtually any location. Edits are visible to users or groups as they are made, and changes are synced and saved so that users or groups see the most recent version of the file. Collaboration through cloud file sharing offers many benefits:

  • Work together and achieve shared goals, even with remote members.
  • Schedule work flexibly by sharing tasks between collaborators in different time zones.
  • Share and edit large files, like video or audio files, with ease.
  • Receive notifications when files are edited or updated in real time.
  • Share ideas or suggestions by leaving comments on shared files.

What are the use cases for cloud file storage?

Cloud file storage provides the flexibility to support and integrate with existing applications, plus the ease to deploy, manage, and maintain all your files in the cloud. These two key advantages give organizations the ability to support a broad spectrum of applications and verticals. Use cases such as large content repositories, development environments, media stores, and user home directories are ideal workloads for cloud-based file storage. Some example use cases for file storage are as follows.

Web serving

The need for shared file storage for web serving applications can be a challenge when integrating backend applications. Typically, there are multiple web servers delivering a website’s content, with each web server needing access to the same set of files. Since cloud file storage solutions adhere to common file-level protocols, file naming conventions, and permissions that web developers are accustomed to, cloud file storage can be integrated into your web applications.

Content management

A content management system (CMS) requires a common namespace and access to a file system hierarchy. Similar to web serving use cases, CMS environments typically have multiple servers that need access to the same set of files to serve up content. Since cloud file storage solutions adhere to the expected file system semantics, file naming conventions, and permissions that developers are accustomed to, storage of documents and other files can be integrated into existing CMS workflows.


Analytics can require massive amounts of data storage that can also scale further to keep up with growth. This storage must also provide the performance necessary to deliver data to analytics tools. Many analytics workloads interact with data through a file interface, rely on features like file locks, and require the ability to write to portions of a file. Since cloud-based file storage supports common file-level protocols and can scale capacity as well as performance, it is ideal for delivering a file-sharing solution that is easy to integrate into existing big data and analytics workflows.

Media and entertainment

Digital media and entertainment workflows are constantly changing. Many businesses use a hybrid cloud deployment and need standardized access using file system protocols (NFS or SMB) or concurrent protocol access. These workflows require flexible, consistent, and secure access to data from off-the-shelf, custom-built, and partner solutions. Since cloud file storage adheres to existing file system semantics, storage of rich media content for processing and collaboration can be integrated for content production, digital supply chains, media streaming, broadcast playout, analytics, and archive.

Home directories

The use of home directories for storing files only accessible by specific users and groups can be beneficial for many cloud workflows. Businesses looking to take advantage of the scalability and cost benefits of the cloud are extending access to home directories for many of their users. Since cloud file storage systems adhere to common file-level protocols and standard permissions models, customers can lift and shift applications to the cloud that need this capability.

Database backups

Backing up data using existing mechanisms, software, and semantics can create an isolated disaster recovery scenario with little locational flexibility for recovery. Many businesses want to take advantage of the flexibility of storing database backups in the cloud, either for temporary protection of previous versions during updates, or for development and testing. Since cloud file storage presents a standard file system that can be mounted from database servers, it can be an ideal platform to create portable database backups using native application tools or enterprise backup applications.

Development tools

Development environments can be challenged to share unstructured data in a safe and secure way as they are collaborating to develop their latest innovations. With the need to share code and other files in an organized way, using shared cloud file storage provides an organized and secure repository that is accessible within their cloud development environments. Cloud-based file storage delivers a scalable and highly available solution ideal for collaboration.

Storage for containers and serverless applications

Containers are ideal for building microservices because they’re quick to provision, portable, and provide process isolation. A container that needs access to the original data each time it starts may require a shared file system that it can connect to regardless of which instance it's running on. Cloud file storage can provide persistent shared access to data that all containers in a cluster can use. You can increase agility with serverless cloud computing while spending less time focusing on the security, scalability, and availability of your applications. For example, you can run large-scale and mission-critical serverless applications on AWS Lambda. Cloud file storage can provide highly available and durable serverless data storage for data sharing that needs to persist beyond and between executions of Lambda functions.

End user computing

End user computing (EUC) is a combination of technologies that gives your employees secure, remote access to applications, desktops, and data they need to get their work done. Modern enterprises use EUC so their employees can work from wherever they are, across multiple devices, in a safe and scalable way. EUC technologies like persistent desktops and document management systems require secure, reliable, and scalable file storage systems.

What are the requirements for cloud file storage?

An ideal file-based data storage solution in the cloud must deliver the right performance and capacity for today, while also being capable of scaling as business needs change. The solution should include the following features:

  • Fully managed: Provides a fully managed file system that can be launched in minutes with no physical hardware required or ongoing software maintenance
  • Performance: Provides consistent throughput, scalable storage space, and low-latency performance
  • Compatibility: Integrates seamlessly with existing applications with no new code to write
  • Security: Provides network security and access control permissions for sensitive data protection
  • Availability: Redundancy across multiple sites and always accessible when needed
  • Affordability: Pay only for capacity used with no upfront provisioning costs or licensing fees

What are the different types of cloud file storage services?

The benefits of cloud file storage are clear, but it is important to note that not all cloud file storage solutions are created equal; various solutions exist. Cloud file storage can be delivered in one of two ways: through fully managed solutions with minimal setup and little to no maintenance, or through do-it-yourself solutions with separate compute, storage, software, and licensing, which require staffed expertise to configure and maintain.

Fully managed solutions

Fully managed solutions require little to no setup and maintenance. They perform to meet the needs of the most demanding application workloads. They also provide simple, scalable file storage for AWS compute models, including AWS containers and serverless, and on-premises use cases. You get virtually unlimited cloud storage for all your file data needs.

Do-it-yourself solutions

Do-it-yourself clustered solutions require time-consuming setup, management, and maintenance. For example, a file storage service might consist of a single node file server on a compute instance using self-managed storage with no scalability and few redundancies to protect data. Setup is a complex and slow process that is prone to human error and increases security risks. In contrast, managed solutions are reliable, secure, and scalable, and can save you hours and days in configuration and management time.

How does cloud file storage compare to other types of cloud storage?

There are three types of cloud storage: file, object, and block. Each type offers its own unique advantages.

File storage

Many applications need to access shared files and require a file system. This type of storage is often supported with a network-attached storage (NAS) server. File storage solutions like Amazon EFS and Amazon FSx are for use cases like content repositories, development environments, machine learning, data science, media stores, and user home directories. Amazon FSx for Lustre is ideal for high-performance computing.

Object storage

Applications developed in the cloud often take advantage of object storage's vast scalability and metadata characteristics. Object storage solutions like Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) are ideal for building modern applications from scratch that require scale and flexibility, and can also be used to import existing data stores for analytics, backup, or archive. Object storage is built for the internet and comprises buckets and objects. A bucket is a container for objects. An object is a file and any metadata that describes that file. Costs can be lower with object storage because of the scale; it delivers faster retrieval times without folder hierarchy; and its metadata classification allows for greater data analytics.

How is file storage different from object storage?

Although object storage solutions support storage of files as objects, accessing them with existing applications requires new code and the use of APIs and direct knowledge of naming semantics. Conversely, file-based data storage solutions support common file-level protocols and permissions models. They do not require new code to be written to integrate with applications that are configured to work with shared file storage.

Block storage

Other enterprise applications like databases or enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems often require dedicated, low-latency storage for each host. This is similar to direct-attached storage (DAS) or a storage area network (SAN). Block-based cloud storage solutions like Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) are provisioned with each virtual server and offer the millisecond latency required for high-performance workloads.

How is file storage different from block storage?

Block storage can be used as the underlying storage component of a self-managed file storage solution. However, the one-to-one relationship required between the host and volume makes it difficult to have the scalability, availability, and affordability of a fully managed file storage solution, and requires additional budget and management resources to support. Using a fully managed cloud file storage solution removes complexities, reduces costs, and simplifies management.

What are the AWS file storage services?

There is a lot of file-based data in the world. AWS provides fully managed file system services that help you address the diverse needs of your file-based applications and workloads. Organizations require their mission-critical business applications to be highly available, and many of these applications use shared file storage. Migrating these applications to the cloud provides scalability, high availability and durability, security, and reduced costs, while increasing agility.

AWS offers the following file system services optimized for your applications and use cases:

  • Amazon EFS provides a simple, serverless, set-and-forget elastic file system that allows you to create and configure shared file systems quickly for AWS compute services.
  • Amazon FSx for Lustre is for compute-intensive applications such as high-performance computing. With this service, you can easily process data with a file system that’s optimized for performance with input and output stored on Amazon S3.
  • Amazon FSx for NetApp ONTAP delivers fully managed, multi-protocol shared storage built on NetApp’s popular ONTAP file system.
  • Amazon FSx for OpenZFS provides fully managed shared file storage built on the OpenZFS file system so that you can migrate your Linux-based file servers to AWS without modifying application code or how you manage data.
  • Amazon FSx for Windows File Server provides a fully managed native-Windows file system with a wide range of data access, data management, and administrative capabilities.

Get started with cloud file storage by creating a free AWS account today.

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