Home > Cloud, EMC, NAS, SAN > Is the end of the File Server finally in sight?

Is the end of the File Server finally in sight?

A year ago I wrote an article detailing my thoughts on how greatly exaggerated predictions of the imminent death of the file server truly were. A few years back many thought the file server would be gone by now, replaced by SharePoint or other similar content portals. Today, file servers (herein referenced as NAS) are alive and well, storing more unstructured content than ever before. You can read the original article here: http://bit.ly/t573Ry

In summary, the main reasons why NAS has not disappeared are:

  • Much of the content stored on NAS is simply not suitable for being stored in a database, and middleware technologies that allow the data to stay on NAS but be presented as if it were in the database adds complexity.
  • Legacy environments are often too big to accommodate a migration of all user and department shared files into a new repository in a cost effective manner.
  • Legacy environments often have legacy apps that were hard-coded to use UNC paths or mapped drive letters.
  • Many businesses in various industries have instruments or machinery that write data to a network share to store data using commonly accepted CIFS and NFS protocols.
  • The bulk of file growth today is in larger rich media formats, which are not well-suited for SharePoint.
  • NAS is a great option for VMware using NFS

The other day I found myself in a presentation where the file server is dead claim was made once again, and the very thought crossed my mind as well after seeing some examples of impressive technology hitting the street. What’s driving the new claims? Not just cloud storage (internal or external), but more specifically Cloud storage with CIFS/NFS gateways and sync and share capabilities with mobile devices.

EMC’s Atmos is certainly one technology playing in this space, another other is Nirvanix. I’ve also had some exposure to Oxygen Cloud and am really impressed with their corporate IT friendly DropBox-like offering. So how do these solutions replace NAS? Most would agree that the consumerization of corporate IT is a trend going on in the workplace right now. Many companies are considering “Bring your own device” deployments instead of supplying desktops and laptops to everyone. Many users (such as doctors) are adopting tablet technology on their own to make themselves more productive at work. Additionally, many users are using consumer-oriented websites like DropBox to collaborate at work. The cloud storage solutions augment or replace the file server by providing functionality similar to these public cloud services, but the data resides inside the corporate firewall. Instead of a home drive or department share, a user gets a “space” with a private folder and shared folders. New technologies allow that shared space to be accessed by traditional NFS or CIFS protocols, as a local drive letter, via mobile devices, or via a web-based interface. Users can also generate links that expire within X number of hours or days that allow an external user to access one of their files, without the needing to email a copy of the document or put it out on DropBox, FTP, etc.

The one challenge I see is that no single solution does everything yet, meaning CIFS/NFS, web-based, and mobile sync and share. Atmos can do CIFS/NFS, but mobile device access requires something like Oxygen. Nirvanix also does just CIFS/NFS. Oxygen by itself isn’t really setup to be an internal CIFS/NFS access gateway, it’s primarily intended for web/mobile sync and share use cases. Panzura, Nasuni, etc offer CIFS/NFS or iSCSI gateway access to the cloud, but they don’t offer sync and share to mobile devices. You could certainly cobble together something that does everything by putting appliances in front of gateways that sit in front of a storage platform, but then it starts to become difficult to justify the effort. You’d also have to consider the fact you’ll need to re-architect within 12-18 months when more streamlined solutions are available. Either way, file sharing is still an exciting place to be with lots of change occurring in the industry. I can definitely see the possibility of home drives and department/workgroup shares going away into a private cloud offering, but the concept of file sharing is certainly still alive and well and CIFS/NFS isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I don’t like to make predictions, but at this point my best guess is the technology that can do the best job of integrating legacy NFS/CIFS not just with “cloud storage”, but with web-friendly access and mobile device access that accelerate the consumerization trends will be the winner in this race.

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