Mass storage

In computing, mass storage refers to the storage of large amounts[note 1] of data in a persisting and machine-readable fashion. Devices and/or systems that have been described as mass storage include tape libraries, RAID systems, and a variety of computer drives such as hard disk drives, magnetic tape drives, magneto-optical disc drives, optical disc drives, memory cards, and solid-state drives. It also includes experimental forms like holographic memory. Mass storage includes devices with removable and non-removable media.[1][2] It does not include random access memory (RAM).

There are two broad classes of mass storage: local data in devices such as smartphones or computers, and enterprise servers and data centers for the cloud. For local storage, SSDs are on the way to replacing HDDs. Considering the mobile segment from phones to notebooks, the majority of systems today is based on NAND Flash. As for Enterprise and data centers, storage tiers have established using a mix of SSD and HDD. [3]


The notion of "large" amounts of data is of course highly dependent on the time frame and the market segment, as mass storage device capacity has increased by many orders of magnitude since the beginnings of computer technology in the late 1940s and continues to grow; however, in any time frame, common mass storage devices have tended to be much larger and at the same time much slower than common realizations of contemporaneous primary storage technology. The term mass storage was used in the PC marketplace for devices far smaller than devices that were not considered mass storage in the mainframe marketplace.

Mass storage devices are characterized by:

  • Sustainable transfer speed
  • Seek time
  • Cost
  • Capacity

Storage media

Magnetic disks are the predominant storage media in personal computers. Optical discs, however, are almost exclusively used in the large-scale distribution of retail software, music and movies because of the cost and manufacturing efficiency of the molding process used to produce DVD and compact discs and the nearly-universal presence of reader drives in personal computers and consumer appliances.[4] Flash memory (in particular, NAND flash) has an established and growing niche as a replacement for magnetic hard disks in high performance enterprise computing installations due to its robustness stemming from its lack of moving parts, and its inherently much lower latency when compared to conventional magnetic hard drive solutions. Flash memory has also long been popular as removable storage such as USB sticks, where it de facto makes up the market. This is because it scales better cost-wise in lower capacity ranges, as well as its durability. It has also made its way onto laptops in the form of SSDs, sharing similar reasons with enterprise computing: Namely, markedly high degrees of resistance to physical impact, which is again, due to the lack of moving parts, as well as a performance increase over conventional magnetic hard disks and markedly reduced weight and power consumption. Flash has also made its way onto cell phones.[5][6]

The design of computer architectures and operating systems are often dictated by the mass storage and bus technology of their time.[7]


Mass storage devices used in desktop and most server computers typically have their data organized in a file system. The choice of file system is often important in maximizing the performance of the device: general purpose file systems (such as NTFS and HFS, for example) tend to do poorly on slow-seeking optical storage such as compact discs.

Some relational databases can also be deployed on mass storage devices without an intermediate file system or storage manager. Oracle and MySQL, for example, can store table data directly on raw block devices.

On removable media, archive formats (such as tar archives on magnetic tape, which pack file data end-to-end) are sometimes used instead of file systems because they are more portable and simpler to stream.

On embedded computers, it is common to memory map the contents of a mass storage device (usually ROM or flash memory) so that its contents can be traversed as in-memory data structures or executed directly by programs.

See also


  1. The capacity of a mass–storage device installed on (or connected to) a computer system is to be compared to the lesser capacity of RAM typically installed on that same system or a similar system of the same generation.


  1. "Definition of: mass storage". PC Magazine. Ziff Davis. Archived from the original on 2016-07-05. Retrieved 2019-10-10.
  2. Sterling, Thomas; Anderson, Matthew; Brodowicz, Maciej (2018). "17 – Mass storage". High performance computing. Morgan Kaufmann (Elsevier). ISBN 978-0-12-420158-3.
  3.,12728.html, NAND Flash is displacing Hard Disk Drives, Retrieved 29. May 2018
  4. Taylor, Jim. "DVD FAQ". Archived from the original on 2009-08-22. Retrieved 2007-07-08. In 2003, six years after introduction, there were over 250 million DVD playback devices worldwide, counting DVD players, DVD PCs, and DVD game consoles.
  5. Gonsalves, Antone (23 May 2007). "Micron predicts flash memory will replace disk drives". EETimes..
  6. Heingartner, Douglas (2005-02-17). "Flash Drives: Always on the Go, Without Moving Parts". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-24..
  7. Patterson, Dave (June 2003). "A Conversation With Jim Gray". ACM Queue. 1 (4). Archived from the original ( Scholar search) on April 21, 2005.. (A discussion of recent trends in mass storage.)
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