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Azure File Storage: Cloud File Sharing Over SMB

Azure Files offers a fully managed cloud share service providing access over SMB. As part of our cluster on cloud file sharing services, this blog will provide an overview of different types of Azure storage, followed by the features and use cases of Azure Files storage service. We’ll also see how Cloud Volumes ONTAP from NetApp complements Azure storage with shared file storage capabilities you won’t get natively in the cloud.

Azure Storage Types

Azure offers a number of cloud-based, pay-as-you-go storage services that accommodate multiple modern storage requirements in the cloud. It includes Azure Blob for object storage, Azure managed and unmanaged disks for block storage, Azure Files for shared file service, messaging queue storage for applications, and more.

Object Storage for Unstructured Data

Object-based storage is used when there is a large amount of unstructured data that often cannot be stored in the constructs of common data models. Such data includes large images, audio, video, log and archive files. Azure Blob, the cloud-based object storage service from Azure, enables easy storage and retrieval of unstructured data for various use cases like analytics, video streaming, backup and recovery, etc.

Block Storage

Block storage volumes can be mounted as drives to be used by operating systems as persistent storage. Page blobs in Azure are fixed size disks of up to 32TB, used in the backend to store Azure IaaS virtual machine hard disks.

Page blobs are made up of 512-byte pages and are an ideal storage for data that needs frequent read/write operations, such as virtual machine hard disks or databases.

Block blobs on the other hand are made up of blocks. They can vary in size, up to a maximum 100 MB. The blocks are identified by Block ID and a single block blob can have a maximum of 50,000 blobs.

Azure Disk Storage

Virtual machine hard disks (VHDs) in Azure are stored in page blobs and can be provisioned on HDD- or SSD-based hardware. A VM provisioned in Azure will have an OS disk and a temporary disk attached to it. Customers can provision data disks for usage with applications or for data storage.

Disks are arranged in a storage account in a directory structure called containers. In Azure, disks can either be managed—with Azure handling tasks such as creating and managing how storage is used by the disks—or unmanaged. In the case of unmanaged disks, customers provision and manage the underlying storage account. Managed disks are the recommended approach for provisioning disks for Azure VMs.   

Microsoft Cloud Storage Classification

Now let’s take a look at the different classifications of Azure storage.

Azure Blob Storage: Azure Blob storage is the object storage solution from Azure optimized to store large amounts of unstructured data, often in text or binary format. It can be accessed via http/https over public network, and via Azure Storage Rest APIs, PowerShell, or the Azure CLI, depending on the use case.

A key factor to this storage type is its relative affordability when compared to other storage types. Cloud Volumes ONTAP is able to leverage Azure Blob as a capacity tier where infrequently used file data can be stored in object format until it needs to be accessed again, at which point it is automatically retrieved for performant use on disks.

Azure Queue Storage: Queue storage is used for asynchronous transfer of data between the components of applications. Messages can be placed and processed by applications in parallel in different queues which allows for flexible and fast processing, based on the architecture. A message in a queue can be up to 64 KB in size and a single queue can have a maximum size of 500 TiB.

Azure Tables: Azure tables are used to store structured NoSQL data with a schemaless key/attribute-based design. Azure tables are best suited for fast-evolving applications where data schema can adapt based on application requirements. A single table entry can have a maximum size of 1 MiB and maximum size of a single table is 500 TiB.

Azure Files: This fully managed cloud-based file share service is accessible over the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol for read/write access. The files can also be accessed using REST API calls, through storage client libraries, or using a URL that has a SAS authentication token embedded to it. A single file in an Azure Files can be as large as 1 TiB and a single file share can support a maximum data size of 5 TiB.

Azure Files Service: Features and Use cases

Shares created in Azure Files can be mounted on any operating system that supports the SMM protocol, irrespective of whether it is hosted on-premises or in the cloud. There are a number of features of Azure Files that makes it the best-fit solution for multiple use cases in modern day hybrid cloud deployments. Let’s explore some of them in detail.

Encryption: Azure file shares support encryption-at-rest for data through storage service encryption (SSE) using secure, 256-bit AES encryption. Data in transit is secured using SMB3.0 encryption and using https for REST API operations. The file share can be configured to reject any unencrypted traffic to ensure maximum security.

Storage replication: Azure file shares are configured for high availability of data through multiple replication mechanisms across data centers and regions. For example, locally redundant storage (LRS) replicates data to three storage units within a data center. Zone-redundant storage (ZRS) enables replication to three storage scale units within a given region. Geo-redundant storage (GRS) replicates data to an additional paired region so that there are six copies in total and protects your data against regional outages.

Scalability: Azure file shares can support a maximum size of 5 TB, whereas premium file share (currently in preview) can support a file share of up to 100 TiB.

Azure File Sync: Azure File Sync helps to extend Azure file shares services to on-premises file services by creating a local cache of the files. Thus, the data in Azure Files can be accessed locally by users using protocols such as SMB, NFS, and FTPS while keeping it synchronized with the files stored in Azure. It also supports features such as Access Control Lists (ACLs), NTFS compression, sparse files, and others, that are important for enterprise-level file services. In the event of a local server crash, the data can be easily synchronized from the Azure file share and made available to users.

File Service Use Cases

Lift & Shift: Applications with on-premises file shares can migrate to Azure by leveraging Azure Files. This enables lift and shift migration without any code changes required to rewrite the file share access and operations. Migration can be as simple as changing the location of file share in the code, pointing it to Azure file share with no need for an additional server to host the share. For existing NetApp users, Cloud Volumes ONTAP allows current systems to migrate to Azure via SnapMirror® and continue to use the familiar ONTAP software.

Application shares: Azure file shares can be configured as a centralized share accessible by multiple applications. The share can serve as a true source of configuration files or as a location to store shared data relevant to connected applications.

The drawback here, of course, is that only SMB protocol access is possible. With Cloud Volumes ONTAP, users are able to configure file share access not only for SMB/ CIFS but also for NFS and iSCSI machines in Azure and on-prem.

Log files: Log files are typically accessed by monitoring and analytics tools to get insights into the IT environment. Azure file shares can be used as a location to store log files, providing simultaneous access by multiple applications over SMB or using REST API calls. In this way, the enterprise monitoring and analytics tools can simply access this file share instead of probing multiple servers to get the logs.

Dev/test usage: Azure Files can be used as a central repository to store utilities and software to be accessed by different teams for development and test usage. With cloud centric developments becoming mainstream, this capability becomes relevant so that the necessary tools can be made available to developers without having to manage the infrastructure required for hosting the files.

What Cloud Volumes ONTAP offers as an added value for cloud file share and DevOps users is FlexClone® data cloning technology. These space-efficient, instant clones are created based on Cloud Volumes ONTAP snapshots, and can significantly lower the costs of storing dev/test copies.

Conclusion: There’s More to Get with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

Azure Files caters to diverse use cases in hybrid as well as cloud-focused architectures. However, Cloud Volumes ONTAP augments the features offered by Azure cloud storage by offering the trusted capabilities of NetApp ONTAP through a single management pane that is easy to use and configure.

Not only do files on Azure benefit from NetApp’s cost-saving space efficiency features, they are also able to ensure availability through the dual-node, high availability configuration.

For more information on file sharing, be sure to check out the cloud file sharing articles:

To understand how Cloud Volumes ONTAP can help create and manage cloud based file shares, sign up for the 30 day trial today.

 

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