Home > EMC, NAS, NetApp > Why NAS? The Benefits of Moving Traditional File Servers to NAS vs. Virtualizing Them

Why NAS? The Benefits of Moving Traditional File Servers to NAS vs. Virtualizing Them

Customers are often presented with the dilemma of moving file servers to NAS (CIFS shares) or virtualizing the file servers. The latter keeps the environment largely “as is” with the flexibility benefits of having servers virtualized. On the surface, the latter option can seem to have a lot of appeal, because you get to keep everything within the construct of your virtualization hypervisor.

Advantages of Virtualizing Windows File Servers

  1. Maintains existing way of doing things.
  2. Allows you to leverage advanced virtualization functionality, such as VMware VMotion and VMware SRM for DR for your file servers.

It’s important, though, to understand all of the benefits that NAS truly offers. The advantages of leveraging NAS instead of traditional file servers (physical or virtual) are still numerous. The rest of this article lists the advantages that specifically exist with the EMC Celerra NAS platform. Some points carry over to other NAS platforms as well, but not all.

Advantages of Moving Windows File Servers to EMC Celerra NAS

  1. Microsoft-compatibility without the bloat: Celerra uses a purpose-built NAS OS that is only about 25MB in size compared to a default Windows Server install. This makes Celerra much more efficient at doing the job of serving up file data. Since it does not run Windows, it is not susceptible to Microsoft vulnerabilities and virus code cannot be executed on it directly. When you virtualize a Windows file server, you still have a Windows server that is susceptible to infection or worms. Removing these servers from the environment will reduce the number of servers less that the administrator has to worry about.
  2. Microsoft Support: EMC is an official licensee of the CIFS/SMB protocol (no reverse engineering), so it is guaranteed to be fully compatible with Active Directory and all supported Windows clients.  EMC also maintains a joint support center with Microsoft engineers in Atlanta, GA.
  3. Checkpoints/Snapshots: File system snapshots enable instant restore for users. You can do this now with Volume Shadow Copies on your Windows server, but it’s not nearly as scalable as a Celerra. Currently, you are allowed up to 96 per file system with Celerra.
  4. De-dupe: With EMC Celerra, you can de-duplicate CIFS and NFS data, including NFS-based VMware datastores. With typical user data on CIFS shares, you can expect to see a 30-40% reduction in the amount of space used. Celerra also has functions to prevent re-hydration of the data when doing an NDMP-protocol backup. In my testing with de-dupe on NFS-based VMware datastores, I saw between 20-40% reduction in the amount of space used for virtual machines.
  5. Failover and DR: All file server data can be easily replicated with Celerra Replicator. Failover can still be accomplished with the click of a button from the GUI.
  6. Scalability: You typically don’t see Windows file systems with much more than 2TB of data on them due to scalability issues. Celerra can have up to 32TB on a single server and it truly scales to that amount.
  7. Virtual Desktops: NAS can make perfect sense for VDI environments, as you can gain efficiencies by centralizing user data to a CIFS share. Granted, you can do that on a traditional Windows file server, but you cannot take advantage of advanced Celerra features. One of these features is de-duplication. You can crunch down typical user data by 30-40% with no performance impact that end users are going to notice.
  8. NDMP backup: NDMP is a backup protocol that all NAS and backup vendors standardized on many years ago. It is needed since true purpose-built NAS operating systems are closed, with no ability for users to directly interact with the OS, hence you cannot install a backup agent. Due to the fact the NDMP code is built into the OS, NDMP backups are traditionally much more reliable than traditional backup agents. The data also traverses directly from the storage to the backup medium, reducing network traffic.
  9. Multi-protocol: Should you ever need to enable NFS access for Linux servers in your environment, this capability exists natively within the Celerra. On a Windows file server, you must enable Microsoft Unix file sharing services, which overwhelming evidence shows does not perform well and is not reliable.
  10. Built-in HA: Every Celerra is configured as an active/passive or n+1 cluster. This is automatically setup right out of the box. The failover code is simply part of the operating system, so it is much cleaner than a traditional Windows cluster, both from a management standpoint and a failover standpoint.
  11. Easy Provisioning: File servers can be provisioned on the Celerra from start to sharing files in under 5 minutes. Even a VM would take more time, not just to spin-up the VM, but actually create the shares. The Celerra comes with an easy GUI, but you can also use traditional Windows CIFS management tools to create shares.
  12. Virtual Provisioning and Auto-Expansion: Celerra has for many years now supported virtual provisioning (aka thin provisioning). This allows you to provision a share that appears to be 1TB in size, even though physically it might only be 200GB. This is useful if you have business customers that regularly ask for more space than they need. In the past, you would allocate everything they asked for, only to find out 1-2 years down the road that they only used 25% of what they said they needed. There was no easy way to reclaim this space and re-purpose it. Now, you can use virtual provisioning to alleviate this issue, and rely on auto-expansion capabilities, which will grow the physical file system as needed, so you are regularly bothered as the administrator to constantly expand the file system.
  13. File Retention: Many businesses today have policies and procedures governing the retention of business documents. Some businesses may even fall under government regulation that adds an extra layer of scrutiny. Celerra natively supports a technology called File-level Retention (FLR), which allows you to use a GUI or custom scripts to set retention on a group of files. This will prevent even an administrator from being able to delete the underlying file system.
  14. Tiered Storage: Celerra natively supports tiering files to other types of storage within the same box, or to a completely different box, whether it is a different NAS box or a Windows server.
Categories: EMC, NAS, NetApp
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