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It’s been several years since AWS first provided users with a service for NFS workloads in the cloud with Amazon EFS. During that time, AWS users had to go without a native solution to manage their SMB file sharing workloads. Now all that has changed with the introduction of Amazon FSx for Windows Server. In this article we’ll take a look at Amazon FSx for Windows as a solution for SMB in AWS, and see how it compares to NetApp’s file sharing service, Cloud Volumes ONTAP. This article is part of our extended coverage on file services in the cloud—find out more by checking out the rest of our cloud file sharing blogs here.
File Share Services Basics
Before we dive into Amazon FSx and what it’s capable of doing for Windows file services, let’s take a quick look at what a file services workload usually requires.
There are several different protocols for serving file data. For Amazon FSx, the relevant protocols are SMB (Server Message Block) and CIFS (Common Internet File System). CIFS is technically a version of SMB, so for the purposes of this article, we’ll be treating them interchangeably.
The primary use cases for shared file services include home directories, software development, migration, media libraries, analytics, and content management. What all of these workloads have in common is the requirement that the data needs to be shared widely by many clients in different locations using different devices. They also need to be able to scale with user demand through high I/O and low latency performance, and to be available without disruption.
As such, solutions for shared file storage need to be highly available, have horizontal scalability, be easy to populate from on-site shares, and be protected with efficient snapshots and backup/recovery processes. How does Amazon FSx handle these requirements? In the next section we’ll take a look and see.
Amazon FSx: An AWS Solution for SMB Cloud File Shares
In late 2018, AWS finally addressed the need for shared file support for SMB /CIFS workloads with the release of Amazon FSx. This fully-managed file service is targeted at third-party protocols, such as Windows Server and Lustre for the purposes of this article, we’ll be looking at the version for Windows Server.
Because Amazon FSx is built on Windows, it is able to fully integrate with any Microsoft workload, such as Active Directory (AD), Windows NTFS, and Distributed File System (DFS). However, it should be noted the AD is only accessible via the native AWS directory system, and cannot be used without it.
Unlike Amazon EFS, Amazon FSx also offers enterprise-grade performance and IO (2 GB/second throughput). This shared storage service is also highly accessible, providing concurrent access globally. As FSx targets enterprise users, it also comes with a data migration capability for lifting and shifting existing workloads to the cloud with minimal effort.
A unique feature to Amazon FSx is that it enables throughput capacity to be set for individual volumes, regardless of how large the volume may be. There is no fee associated with setting up the service; charges are applied based on the amount of throughput, storage, and backup storage used per GB per month, respectively. Capacity for the service is currently limited to 300 GB-64 TB.
Security needs are met by Amazon FSx through the use of encryption for data both in transit and at rest. When it comes to data protection, unlike Amazon EFS, Amazon FSx is equipped with a snapshot feature. These snapshots can create backups of files on a daily basis, or they can be created by the user manually. Since the snapshots are incremental, storage consumed for their retention will only be based on the changes made to the original data.
To maintain availability in a multi-AZ setup, Amazon FSx requires use of Distributed File System (DFS) replication, which can be an additional cost factor as it essentially doubles the cost for the service.
Deployments on Amazon FSx can be started through the use of the AWS CLI and AWS SDK developer tools directly, or through the easy-to-use AWS Management Console GUI.
- Quick and simple set up and migration.
- AWS provides full management of the file service.
- AD integration, and support for Windows NTFS and DFS.
- Daily incremental snapshots or manual.
- Multi-AZ availability through DFS.
- Availability limited to these AWS regions: US West: Oregon, US East: N. Virginia, US East: Ohio, and Europe: Ireland.
- Possible weekly maintenance (and downtime)
- AWS directory service usage.
- Three costs: throughput, storage, and backup.
- 300 GB-64 TB capacity.
Cloud Volumes ONTAP: SMB and NFS Shares
NetApp SAN and NAS storage systems have been helping clients serve SMB, NFS, and iSCSI shares for years, and Cloud Volumes ONTAP makes that possible in the public cloud with both AWS and Azure.
Cloud Volumes ONTAP solves many of the challenges of file sharing in the cloud, including high performance and scalability, protecting data with efficient snapshots and DR processes, helping to migrate to the cloud with easy data transfer and sync tools, multi- and hybrid cloud architecture management, provisioning persistent NFS volumes for Kubernetes via Trident, full AD (Active Directory) integration to extend user group memberships and credentials across platforms to allow full access throughout the file ecosystem, and much more.
But for AWS users, there’s an especially important value add to using Cloud Volumes ONTAP for your file-based workloads. If you’re using NFS and SMB workloads in AWS, the reality is that you’re going to have to subscribe to two different AWS services: Amazon EFS for your NFS workloads and Amazon FSx for Windows Server for your SMB workloads. You’re essentially doubling your file-sharing operating costs, and for services that are relatively high-cost when compared to other storage offerings on AWS, such as Amazon S3.
Further cost benefits come from leveraging the storage efficiencies that come with Cloud Volumes ONTAP: data deduplication, thin provisioning, data compression, and more. Tiering data to Amazon S3 is another way to lower the costs of file sharing in the cloud. With this feature, infrequently-used data such as snapshots, DR copies, and active data that is accessed rarely can be tiered automatically to object storage on Amazon S3 while remaining accessible over SMB. This also helps lower file share costs, and allow for a greater ability to scale.
- Unified storage solution for all versions of NFS, CIFS and iSCSI in the cloud with multiprotocol access
- Powerful storage efficiencies to reduce your storage footprint and costs
- A wide range of storage management capabilities
- Extremely efficient replication technology on a block level
- Available for use with AWS and Azure
Take a look at the chart below to see how the two services stack up:
Conclusion/Next in the Series
For running SMB workloads for Windows Server, Amazon FSx gives AWS users an easy way to get shared file services over SMB connections. However, users whose file sharing workloads extend beyond Windows will need to leverage additional solutions. One option is to also subscribe to another AWS service, Amazon EFS, in addition to Amazon FSx. NetApp’s alternative is to use Cloud Volumes ONTAP, a single solution that is capable of serving both NFS and SMB data interchangeably.