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File shares are one of the most important services offered by the cloud, given their unlimited potential to scale and meet the demands of high availability and durability. Cloud file sharing using NFS and CIFS make data accessible for users all over the world for many different use cases.
In the first part of this three-part series we talked about the file share option on AWS: Amazon EFS. Now we’ll go into cloud-based file share services available on Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure, including Azure Files, Azure File Sync and Azure Files Share Snapshots.
After that, the next blog in the series (Part 3) will compare open-source cloud-based file share solutions, and we’ll turn again to look at Cloud Volumes ONTAP®, NetApp’s data management software solution, to show its enterprise-grade abilities for data protection, cost-cutting storage efficiency, migration, recoverability and more.
Azure Files: SMB File Service in the Cloud
Though the SMB protocol is usually used with Microsoft Windows, these shares can also be mounted for reading and writing on Linux and MacOS systems. Support for the newer version of SMB enables features such as encryption in transit. However, this can also be achieved by using the REST interface over HTTPS.Azure Files enables users to create SMB v3.0 file shares in the Microsoft cloud, in a similar way to Amazon EFS. Creating a new file share is a very straightforward procedure through the UI, can also be performed through Powershell or the Azure CLI.
Azure File Sync allows Azure Files to be fully integrated with on-premises systems. By running the Azure File Sync agent on an on-premises Windows Server machine, Azure Files data can be cached locally for faster access, with all writes transparently synchronized back to Azure. Azure File Sync ensures resiliency of your data and end-to-end integration with Geo-Redundant Storage (GRS).
Multiple servers can be configured in this way to provide uniform access in different regional areas. Azure Files Share Snapshots is another feature that allows for read-only snapshots to be created of a file share for Azure files backup purposes. You can see how AWS handles data protection for their file service with EFS backups here.
Azure Files cost is split into two levels: The Azure storage cost of the share itself and access costs, as an example for listing the contents of a directory or accessing a file. Additional Azure files costs would also be incurred for using features such as Azure File Sync.
- Very quick to get started
- Fully-managed solution
- File Sync and File Share Snapshots
- Size limited to 5 TB
- No built-in support for NFS
- Integration with Microsoft Azure AD for SMB share authentication is in preview and can be implemented only by using Azure AD Domain Services.
Azure File Storage with NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP
As we spoke about in the previous part of this series, Cloud Volumes ONTAP is a different solution for file share services. As a comprehensive solution for cloud storage management, Cloud Volumes ONTAP is available for use with Azure storage and Azure cloud environments.
NetApp has great expertise with on-premises SAN and NAS storage, and leveraged that expertise to create a virtual storage appliance based on cloud compute and storage resources. The benefits to this kind of system include the ability to serve both NFS and CIFS file shares no matter where they are stored: On-premises, in the cloud or in a hybrid or multi-cloud environment.
With CIFS Active Directory integration, users can keep using the domain credentials and group memberships they already have to access, manage, and control all their files.
The other added value that comes with using Cloud Volumes ONTAP for file services is the storage efficiency features which are the hallmark of NetApp storage solutions.
These powerful space efficiencies for Azure including thin provisioning, data compaction, data deduplication and compression make it possible for Cloud Volumes ONTAP to significantly reduce your cloud storage footprint, and therefore Azure storage costs.
These are savings which you can see by taking a look at our Azure calculator.
Cloud Volumes ONTAP Snapshots is another standout feature. More efficient than any other method, Cloud Volumes ONTAP Snapshots are based on incremental changes, not the entire copy, which saves time and space. They can be used to create instant backups of your data, irrespective of size, with the capability to later restore the storage volume back to a selected point-in-time.
With NetApp FlexClone®, Cloud Volumes ONTAP also has the ability to create writable clones, which are based on the snapshot backups. These flexible clones can be used for a number of purposes, but most importantly for rapidly and easily creating test environments that have no impact on your operations.
Other features include SnapMirror®, which can be used to incrementally synchronize data from your on-premises NetApp appliances to the cloud, or between cloud environments.
Managing Cloud Volumes ONTAP is easy through the use of the NetApp Cloud Manager, which is also available through the Azure Marketplace. Cloud Manager takes you through the setup process with a wizard interface, showing you how to discover your storage systems, provision volumes and disk aggregates, replicate volumes or environments, synchronize between environments per your defined schedules, and how to create new file shares.
With all these operations also available through a RESTful API, which is a big support for DevOps, Cloud Manager simplifies the process of setting up a new system.
- Support both NFS and CIFS file shares
- Available for use with Azure cloud services
- Wide range of storage-efficiency features
- Storage management features such as data replication, synchronization and cloning
- Point-in-time snapshots with recovery support
- Storage management features may be more than some users require
Comparison Table: Azure Files and Cloud Volumes ONTAP
Next in the Cloud File Sharing Series
Like AWS, the other major public cloud file service we’ve seen so far in this series, Azure Files is a fully-managed file share, that doesn’t require a hands-on approach from the customer.In this article we saw what Azure has to offer in the realm of cloud-based file share services with its combination of Azure Files, Azure File Sync and Azure Files Share Snapshots.
But Cloud Volumes ONTAP does something different, offering advanced features for users who want to get more out of their cloud file services and need more control over their data, for any number of reasons including cost-efficiency, data recovery or automation requirements.
With Azure Files, testing to see if the solution works for your workloads is easy thanks to the free tier that Azure offers. We’ll see something different in the third part of this series on cloud-based file shares, where we’ll discuss open-source file service solutions such as Avere vFXT and GlusterFS.