The digital era has ushered in a paradigm shift in the extensive use of devices and a surge in the number of applications. Though this is in line with the concept of glocal, “making world a smaller, well-networked, and close-knit place,” an overabundance of interactions among mobile devices, clickstreams, e-mails, and other sources is the bearer of heavily scattered unstructured data which is stored primarily as files on the network-attached storage (NAS).
A leading research agency says that currently, the file market is at 28EB and the cloud will grow faster than on-premise at 24.9 percent by 2021. This would bring the traditional NAS under duress from several quarters. As a refresher, network attached storage (which supports SMB and NFS protocols) provides a connection to the virtual server through the TCP/IP protocol. In terms of storage, the features it offers are:
- Hierarchical file structure,
- Read/Write functions and,
- File-based locking system.
These features make network attached storage a great file-sharing medium. However, the traditional NAS will succumb to the ever-increasing workloads on the following fronts:
- In the contemporary digital world, the individual size of a file is increasing exponentially, challenging the so-called infinite scalability (several petabytes) of current NAS systems. Also, datacenters have limited space and will pose challenges on similar lines
- Sheer wastage of datacenter resources, as we do not intend to move infrequently accessed data/redundant data to a less-expensive object storage
- Legacy NAS creates an archipelago of storage sites as it faces issues in terms of cross-site collaboration (global remote sites)
- Another possible case is when NAS storage is kept at the centralized datacenter, affecting the performance for remote users
In order to accelerate business, storage needs to change substantially and thereby, all the above limitations need to be dealt with an iron hand. Cloud NAS is the new-age antidote to the above pain points. In layman terms, it is “NAS residing in the cloud.” The major difference is that unlike traditional NAS, where we keep physical machines in the datacenter, cloud NAS is operated by cloud vendors.
It allows file access as does NAS over the cloud as though we are accessing these files locally on our system. So, it not only becomes a hub for data located centrally, but also provides standardized enterprise NAS features such as file sharing, change synchronization, and collaboration.
Now, an interesting point could be that there are already existing enterprise file share and sync solutions (EFSS solutions such as Dropbox), which prove to be a subset of the larger cloud NAS solutions and assume similar functionalities. Where do they fail then? The answer lies in the understanding of nature and scale of enterprise workloads such as solutions support. They take a back seat when:
- Large file sizes exist as in the medical industry
- Versioning limitations of the files
- The customer does not hold encryption keys, thereby challenging security
- File conflict issues during editing, etc.
Most solutions mushrooming in the cloud NAS space rescind the limitations mentioned above by utilizing global locking (distributed file and byte locking), global metadata, global namespace (single unified view of files independent of the location of the files), global deduplication and compression, etc. as inherent features.
This brings us to the final leg where I would like to throw some light on some of the important use cases supported by cloud NAS. They are:
- Cross/Multisite collaboration to support the global workforce (ROBO users) with the real-time consistency of files and data to any user globally
- Consolidation of remote file servers with existing NAS to achieve a unified file services platform using Cloud Object-Based S3 storage
- This is achieved through central provisioning (single pane of glass management)
- Enhanced deduplication, compression, snapshot capability, thin provisioning, etc., coupled with other traditional NAS features, provide the best of both NAS storage and object storage
- File services via NFS, CIFS/SMB, and ISCSI block services for object storage with Active Directory (AD) and LDAP integration mitigating security concerns
- Backup and DR is also covered with significant improvement in RPO and RTO
- Cold tiering (archival) of inactive data to the cloud (retaining hot or more actively used data) to increase performance and reliability
- Eliminating data silos and using a centralized view of data to perform in place analytics for workloads (archived data inclusive) using tools for Big Data analysis such as Hadoop, Sparx, and Kafka
All in all, the trends, limitations, and approaches of NAS in its current form presage rapid adoption of the cloud NAS solutions in the near future. The espousal of this technique will help overcome certain predicaments that are a part of the current NAS systems and will equip enterprises to define their digital strategy in a data-bloated world.