Barry Whittle - August 20, 2019

The Essential Guide to Azure Blob Storage Pricing

What is Azure Blob Storage?


Azure Blob Storage provides massively scalable object storage for unstructured data.  It is equivalent to AWS Simple Storage Service (S3) and Google Cloud Storage.

Storage account types  for Azure Blob Storage

Azure offers three types of storage accounts: General Purpose v2 (GPv2), General Purpose v1 (GPv1), and a dedicated object storage service—Blob Storage. GPv1 and GPv2 support the same storage types, but GPv2 supports Hot, Cool, and Archive tiers. Adopt GPv2 or Blob Storage to leverage tiering.

GPv2 offers up a variety of storage options (blob, files, queues, tables, and disks), performance tiers, and replication options not available with dedicated blob storage account types. Azure uses GPv2 to roll out new product enhancements (e.g., new redundancy options). GPv2 is the preferred storage account type if you want early access to new services. Azure storage account options are:

  • GPv2: Basic storage account type for blobs, files, queues, and tables. Recommended for most scenarios using Azure Storage.
  • GPv1: Legacy account type for blobs, files, queues, and tables. Use GPv2 accounts instead when possible.
  • Block blob storage accounts: Blob-only storage accounts with premium performance characteristics. Recommended for scenarios with high transactions rates, using smaller objects, or requiring consistently low storage latency.
  • Blob storage accounts: Blob-only storage accounts. Use GPv2 accounts instead when possible.


 Azure Blob Storage redundancy options

Azure storage accounts have replication options for durability and availability. Your tolerance for risk determines the right redundancy option. Redundancy options are:

  • Locally redundant storage (LRS) provides 11 9’s of durability over a year by replicating data to a storage scale unit. LRS provides fault tolerance for storage within a datacenter. If the datacenter goes offline, data is lost.
  • Zone-Redundant Storage (ZRS) provides 12 9’s of durability over a year and replicates data across three storage clusters in one region. Unlike LRS, where if one data center fails, all data is lost, ZRS relies on storage clusters in a single region physically separated into availability zones. Each availability zone is self-reliant—utilities and networking components are autonomous.
  • Geo-Redundant Storage (GRS) provides 16 9’s of durability over a year leveraging a primary and secondary region. Data is protected within an individual datacenter or in a single region. When there is a failure in the primary region, data is available in read-only mode in the secondary region.
  • Read Access Geo-Redundant Storage (RA-GRS) replicates data to another data center in a secondary zone. Unlike GRS, where you only have access to the secondary region with failure in the first, RA-GRS provides secondary regional access regardless of whether the primary region has failed.

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Azure Blob Storage is also now offered in two additional redundancy types—albeit currently only in US East with GPv2 accounts:

  • Geo-zone redundant storage (GZRS) brings the high availability of ZRS with the regional protection of GRS. Data is replicated across three availability zones in the primary region and to a secondary regional zone. Common use cases:  applications needing consistency, durability, high availability, excellent performance, and resilience for disaster recovery. 

  • Read-access geo-zone-redundant storage (RA-GZRS) is for applications the need to read data even if there is a failure in the primary region. 

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»Read more: The ultimate cheat sheet for cloud migration TCO analysis 

Azure Blob Storage tiers

Azure prices storage options by expected behavior. Break those expectations, and you will pay (literally) for the pleasure.  Available access tiers:

  • Hot - Optimized for frequent access with higher storage costs and lowest access costs compared with cool and archive tiers.
  • Cool - Optimized for infrequent access and stored for at least 30 days. This tier has lower storage costs and higher access costs compared with Hot tier.
  • Archive - Optimized for infrequent access and stored for at least 180 days. This tier has the lowest storage costs of the three tiering options and the highest retrieval rates. 

Tiering provides more effective storage choices. Think of a picture and how it’s accessed. Hot storage tier is more suitable for recent thumbnails; older thumbnails better for Cool tier. Save high-resolution, rarely used, images in the Archive tier—they are only retrieved when requested.

Only GPv2 and Blob storage accounts support tiering. If you are using GPv1, and you want to leverage tiering, convert your account to GPv2 through the Azure portal.

Premium blob storage is also available with low latency and pricing optimized for high transaction rates. It’s only available with LRS.

The following shows a comparison of premium performance block blob storage, and Hot, Cool, and Archive tiers.

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Azure Blob Storage billing

There is more to storage billing than just the storage costs. Consider the following factors when planning Blob Storage spend:

  • Storage costs depend on the access tier. As the tier cools, costs decrease.
  • Data access costs increase as the tier gets cooler. There are per-gigabyte data access charges for Cool and Archive tiers.
  • Transaction costs apply for all tiers and increase as the tier cools.
  • Geo-Replication data transfer costs apply at a rate of $0.02/GB for accounts with geo-replication configured, including GRS and RA-GRS.
  • Outbound data transfer costs from an Azure region incurs bandwidth usage on a per-gigabyte basis.
  • Changing the access tier adds charges for reading existing data (e.g., Cool to Hot) and writing (e.g., hot to cool).  

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[WEBINAR] Why cloud costs are so complicated, and what to do about it 

 

Azure Blob Storage pricing

Pricing looks small at the unit rate level, but you pay for what you use—nominal unit rates deliver a sizeable bill when you provision the wrong storage class for your needs. (Same goes for AWS S3.)

Understand upfront how you will use Blob Storage. Archive pricing is for long-term, rarely used material (e.g., end-of-lifecycle data)—it’s not a good option for disaster recovery.

Below pricing is for the West US 2 region and standard GPv2 storage account.


Azure Blob Storage—LRS

Data storage prices

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Operations and data transfer prices

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Azure Blob Storage—ZRS

Data storage prices

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Operations and data transfer prices

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Azure Blob Storage—GRS

Data storage prices

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Operations and data transfer prices

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Azure Blob Storage—RA GRS

Data storage prices

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Operations and data transfer prices

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Azure Blob Storage vs. AWS S3: The case for a cloud management solution

Price comparison options between Blob Storage and S3 are complicated by each provider's service packaging.  AWS has six storage classes emphasizing usage inclusive of fault tolerance options (e.g., Standard-IA vs. One Zone-IA). Azure Blob storage uses redundancy options (e.g., LRS, ZRS, GRS) and tiering (Performance, Hot, Cool, Archive) to define the service. 

Some AWS and Azure services are similar enough for an eye-ball comparison, but the pricing structure complicates the view. AWS S3 Glacier monthly storage costs are $0.005/GB; Azure LRS monthly storage costs (for cool tier) are $0.01/GB. A win for AWS S3 Glacier? Possibly. But what about retrieval rates? Then it gets complicated.

Standard retrieval rates for S3 Glacier and LRS are the same ($0.01 per GB), but expedited retrieval is free with Blob Storage (if you leverage Hot and Premium tiers). AWS expedited retrieval is $0.033 per GB. And then there is the cost for the retrieval requests themselves. With AWS, expedited data retrieval requests are $11 per 1000 requests!

It's a truth of cloud spend that usage drives costs, but Blob Storage spend is a sum of the storage itself and how you interact with that storage. Keep track of those usage patterns over time to see if initial assumptions work out in practice. The blessing (and curse) of cloud billing is that you quickly learn from your mistakes—there is no hiding from the monthly (cloud bill) report card.
 
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