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Compare file storage options in the cloud

In the hot market of file storage in the public cloud, there are many options across some of the largest vendors. Performance is a major consideration.

File storage is the fastest-growing data type, and cloud file storage is rapidly expanding to keep up.

AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure all have multiple file storage managed services. Several of these file storage options in the cloud come through partnerships with traditional on-premises NAS vendors.

Besides keeping up with an increased need for file storage, the expansion of NAS managed services reflects a larger trend in storage. Even on-premises vendors make their storage available as managed services, such as Dell Apex, HPE GreenLake, IBM Storage as a Service, NetApp Keystone and Pure Storage Pure as-a-Service.

To understand how NAS has evolved, look at NetApp. The vendor stayed among the NAS leaders for decades, packaging the OnTap OS it developed in 1992 on disk arrays. OnTap remains NetApp's flagship technology, but now, users can deploy it natively in AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure, as well as on NetApp FAS arrays. AWS recently released FSx for NetApp OnTap, one of several file storage options in the cloud launched since mid-2021. It makes OnTap one of four options for Amazon FSx.

While other traditional NAS products -- such as Dell EMC PowerScale, Hitachi NAS, IBM Spectrum Scale and Qumulo File Fabric -- can migrate data to the public cloud, NetApp has gone deeper in its cloud integration. NetApp also sells Cloud Volumes OnTap (CVO) and Cloud Volumes Service (CVS) through the public cloud. CVO is a virtual OnTap instance that runs in the cloud, while CVS is a file service that NetApp manages. However, Amazon FSx represents the deepest integration for OnTap with a public cloud because AWS sells FSx for NetApp OnTap as a fully managed service.

So many NAS choices can complicate buying decisions, so take a look at what's available on the public cloud.

So many NAS choices can complicate buying decisions, so take a look at what's available on the public cloud.

AWS

Think of Amazon FSx as a collection of file systems AWS offers as managed services that use AWS disk, compute and networking technology. In addition to FSx for NetApp OnTap, AWS also offers file storage options in the cloud with FSx for Windows File Server, FSx for Lustre and and FSx for OpenZFS. For OnTap or Windows File Server users who want those file systems delivered as managed services, the choice among FSx versions is easy. They can sign up for the same file system on AWS. FSx for Lustre is for high-performance computing. FSx for OpenZFS is recommended for customers who want to use ZFS or other Linux-based file servers.

For users who aren't already an on-premises NAS customer or use a different file system and want to switch to an AWS managed service, AWS publishes a chart to help decide. Lustre supports greater throughput and IOPS per file system than the others while OpenZFS has the lowest latency. FSx for Lustre is Linux-only and uses a performance-optimized Portable OS Interface file protocol. Windows uses the SMB protocol, OpenZFS uses NFS and OnTap supports NFS and SMB file protocols plus iSCSI for shared block storage. FSx for OnTap supports all the features NetApp delivers in its on-premises systems, so users can also get features such as SnapMirror, SnapVault and FlexCache with FSx.

NetApp CVS subscriptions previously purchased through AWS Marketplace will migrate to FSx for NetApp OnTap. NetApp CVO is still available through AWS Marketplace for customers who want to manage their own OnTap cloud storage.

AWS also has Elastic File System (EFS), an OS-agnostic network file system based on NFS. Amazon EFS is a NAS filer for Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud instances designed to quickly scale up and down as users add and remove files. Amazon EFS is for test/dev and file sharing and works with other AWS services, such as Lambda.

Google

Google also expanded its NAS services this year, making Filestore Enterprise available in a public preview. Google now has three of its own cloud services. Filestore Basic focuses on file sharing, software development, Google Kubernetes Engine and web sharing. Filestore High Scale, also in public preview, is for high-performance and high-capacity workloads, such as genome sequencing and financial trading analysis. Filestore Enterprise is for critical apps that need high availability (HA). The new Enterprise offering is unique among the three file storage options in the cloud with its cross-zone synchronous replication and the ability to roll back to recovery points with snapshots.

Filestore Basic and Enterprise have similar performance. Both have a 1,200 MBps maximum sequential read throughput. Maximum random read IOPS is 60,000 MBps for Basic and 57,000 MBps for Enterprise. But Filestore Basic has a lower-price, lower-performance HDD option, and Filestore Enterprise includes the HA features. Filestore High Scale has far greater performance, with a maximum sequential read throughput of 26,000 and maximum random read IOPS of 960,000. At 60 cents per gibibyte per month, Filestore Enterprise costs twice as much as Filestore Basic SSD and Filestore High Scale.

All Filestore versions support the NFS protocol. They also use the same APIs, which makes it easier to mix and match different versions for different applications.

Google also runs popular on-premises NAS in the cloud. It partners with DataDirect Networks (DDN), Dell EMC, NetApp and Nasuni. Lustre on Google Cloud is based on DDN's EXAScaler. Dell EMC PowerScale for Google Cloud offers Dell EMC's OneFS file services on Google Cloud Marketplace and manages them on Google Cloud Portal. NetApp CVS and CVO are available on Google.

Nasuni Files for Google Cloud was another 2021 public cloud file storage addition. Nasuni and other distributed file services vendors, such as Ctera and Panzura, have their own file systems but can use the public cloud to store files and objects. With Nasuni Files for Google Cloud, Nasuni's UniFS file system is available through Google Cloud Marketplace.

Microsoft Azure

Azure offers two managed file storage options in the cloud. Microsoft Azure Files is built on the same storage platform as Azure Blob for object storage. Azure NetApp Files is based on OnTap for more high-performance, low-latency workloads. Azure NetApp Files also includes OnTap's data protection and data management features.

Azure NetApp Files supports SMB and NFS protocols. It enables creation of volumes that support both. Azure Files began with SMB and NFS support in preview, although there is no dual protocol support. Pricing for Azure NetApp Files premium service begins at about 30 cents per gibibyte per month compared to 16 cents per gibibyte per month for Azure Premium Files.

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