File storage, also known as file-level or file-based storage, stores data as single pieces of information inside folders. When the data needs to be accessed, the user can go down the path to find it. Data in files are organized using a limited amount of metadata that tells the computer where the file is kept.
You can think of file storage as a closet with cabinets and each document arranged logically. This file storage system is the oldest and most widely used, and likely the one that is most familiar to users, as when accessing data on your personal computer, file storage is used. File storage has a range of capabilities and can store nearly anything. Common use cases include collaborating on documents, backup and recovery, and archival purposes.
In file storage systems, the data is saved in a single file in an extension type determined by the application (e.g., .jpg, .docx, .txt). File storage is easy to access on a small scale and is most appropriate with a small-to-moderate number of files: users can easily navigate down the file path to find their desired file. This also allows access rights, file locking, and file sharing at the user level. Files can be set as read-only, locked, or written, in addition to being password protected.
File-based storage systems must scale out by adding additional systems rather than scaled up by adding capacity. Furthermore, it becomes challenging to manage and retrieve large numbers of files as the number of folders and subfolders increases. It also makes it difficult to work with unstructured data such as text, mobile activity, and IoT sensor data — especially in large amounts. When storage space reaches capacity, additional hardware must be purchased, making it difficult to manage at large scales.