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Cloud-based File Share Services: Part 1 - AWS EFS and Cloud Volumes ONTAP (formerly ONTAP Cloud)

Moving your file share services to the cloud gives you unlimited scalability, while at the same time, transparently addressing concerns over high availability and resilience to system failure.
Where NFS and CIFS file shares allow a filesystem to be accessed concurrently by hundreds or thousands of client machines, cloud file sharing services can also be used to support a wider range of use cases, such as media processing, off-site backup, data analytics and more.

As can be expected, there are a number of things to consider when choosing cloud file sharing services. Each file share service may be fully managed or require a certain amount of setup, and will support different access protocols and provide different backup facilities. Finding the best fit for your particular requirements usually necessitates a certain amount of research, proof of concept, and trial and error.

In this series, we’ll explore the file share solutions offered by AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform and IBM, paying specific attention to their setup, features, pricing and considerations for usage. We’ll also take a look at NetApp’s enterprise data management software, Cloud Volumes ONTAP®, which as a file share service comes packed with storage-efficient features and additional capabilities that make it a comprehensive solution for cloud file sharing services.

In this first part, we’ll look at Amazon Elastic File System (AWS EFS, AWS file share service) and how Cloud Volumes ONTAP works with Amazon cloud storageThe next blog (Part 2) will compare with Azure Files, and the following blog after that (Part 3) with Google Cloud Platform and IBM Cloud Files.

Cloud-based File Share Services

Amazon EFS provides a scalable and highly-available solution for creating cloud-based NFS file shares. The setup process is very straightforward, allowing you to create a new filesystem through the wizard-based UI within minutes. These filesystems grow and shrink automatically as required, with file data redundantly distributed across multiple Availability Zones. Use of multiple nodes also helps to provide greater aggregate throughput for data access. Amazon EFS filesystems are primarily meant for access by Amazon EC2 and make use of security groups to act as a kind of firewall to manage network access. In order to use an EFS mount for access to the filesystem from an on-premises server, AWS Direct Connect must be used to make a connection to the share over a non-internet based connection, as AWS VPN connections are not supported.

Each filesystem is billed according to the amount of storage used each month. As storage use is normally not static, and can vary within any month, this is calculated based on a more granular measure of capacity used in hours, known as GB-hours. A worked example can be found in the AWS documentation.

One of the main considerations when moving to Amazon EFS is protecting live data through a built-in backup or snapshot mechanism. Though an AWS Data Pipeline can be used to perform an AWS EFS backup to a secondary filesystem, this AWS EFS-to-EFS backup solution must be set up manually. As snapshots are not supported, these Amazon EFS backups to the secondary filesystem could potentially double storage usage, and therefore double Amazon cloud storage costs.

Another consideration is the relationship between capacity and throughput performance. A system of burst credits is used to determine the highest level of performance a filesystem can be expected to achieve, which directly relates to the size of the data being stored. Small, actively-used filesystems that use up all their allocated credits drop down to a base level of performance that may not be acceptable in all cases.

Benefits:
  • Very easy to set up.
  • Fully-managed solution.
  • Horizontally scalable and highly available
Considerations:
  • No built-in backup or snapshot system; may result in additional AWS EFS costs.
  • NFS v4.1 support is limited to 5 AWS EFS regions (Oregon, Ohio, Virginia, Ireland, Sydney).

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP is a comprehensive solution for cloud storage management available for use with the AWS cloud. Leveraging their vast experience with on-premises SAN and NAS storage, NetApp has made it possible to use cloud compute and storage resources, including those on AWS cloud storage, to create a virtual storage appliance.

This has myriad benefits, including the ability to serve both NFS and CIFS file shares (in addition to iSCSI) to both cloud and on-premises systems. CIFS Active Directory integration means that users can continue to use their existing domain credentials and group memberships to manage access control to their files.

The major benefit of adopting Cloud Volumes ONTAP is the storage efficiency features. The space-efficiency technologies — such as thin provisioning, data compaction, compression and deduplication — that are core to the ONTAP system significantly reduce your cloud storage footprint and, therefore, AWS storage costs. Snapshots can be used to create instant backups of your data, irrespective of size, with the capability to later restore a storage volume back to a selected point-in-time.

Using
FlexClone®, Cloud Volumes ONTAP snapshots can also be used to create writable clones that can be used for testing, for example. Other features include SnapMirror®, which can be used to incrementally synchronize data from your on-premises NetApp appliances to the cloud, and data tiering, which can offload less-frequently-used data to Amazon S3 while still exposing it over NFS and/or CIFS. Data tiering is highly effective in terms of savings due to the lower AWS S3 storage costs.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP supports all versions of both NFS and CIFS in all commercial AWS regions, as well as AWS GovCloud and AWS C2S. When deploying Cloud Volumes ONTAP, you can select the type of Amazon EC2 instance you wish to use and create individual storage pools using any of the Amazon EBS disk types, allowing you to strike the ideal balance between performance and capacity storage. As Cloud Volumes ONTAP can also be deployed to Microsoft Azure, you are protected from cloud provider vendor lock-in.

These features make Cloud Volumes ONTAP ideal for orchestrating hybrid and multi-cloud deployments that need to access and transfer data between different storage environments within a single pane of glass.Cloud Volumes ONTAP is managed and deployed using OnCommand® Cloud Manager, which is accessible from the AWS Marketplace. A wizard interface guides users through the process of setting up a new AWS Cloud storage system, provisioning disk aggregates and volumes and creating new file shares.

Though this greatly reduces the complexity involved in setting up the system, all operations are also available through a RESTful API in order to support
DevOps and other workflows.

Value Proposition:
  • Support both NFS and CIFS file shares
  • Granular control over allocated cloud resources and system performance
  • Wide range of storage management features, including data replication and cloning
  • Storage efficiencies that reduce cloud storage footprint and therefore costs
  • Encryption at rest, with the choice of AWS or ONTAP managed encryption
  • Point-in-time snapshots with recovery support


Considerations:
  • Storage management features may be more than some users require

Conclusion

In this article we saw how Amazon EFS offers a fully-managed file share solution. As with all cloud-based file share services, it’s important to test with a proof of concept to make sure that the solution will meet your system’s requirements; with its free tier, Amazon EFS goes a long way to making that possible.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP, with its wide number of use cases and applicability to organizations of varying sizes also provides excellent cloud file sharing solutions, with the major advantages of its built-in storage efficiencies of thin provisioning, data compaction, compression, deduplication, cloning, tiering to Amazon S3 and cost-efficient snapshots. These features combine to significantly reduce storage space consumed and therefore AWS storage or EFS costs.

In the next part of this series we’ll take a look at cloud-based file share services on Azure, and after that wrap up the series by taking a look at cloud-based file shares on Google Cloud Platform and IBM Cloud.

If you aren’t already using AWS, NetApp is currently offering a 30-day free trial of Cloud Volumes ONTAP, that comes with $100 of free AWS credit to get you started.

AWS Data Traffic Costs


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