Virtual machines (VMs) need file services as much as physical servers need them. Once file services expanded beyond user home directories, administrators started using them for the storage needs of many different types of applications. Besides sharing data between multiple servers and applications, many people saw benefit in moving all data to NFS & SMB storage, leaving only their operating system and application code on the server.
This trend intensified once servers became VMs. Many people minimize the amount of data stored in the VM image and move as much as possible to external storage that is often accessed via NFS or SMB. There’s no question that VMs need file services; the only question is how you should meet that need. Should you run file services in a VM or physical machine, or use some kind of external system? (That system may be a NAS filer or it may be something else.)
Although NAS filers are no longer the only choice for external shareable storage, there are many reasons they became popular. All of those reasons are alive and well today. Let’s look at some of those reasons and then look at the challenges of using NAS systems.
Using a Windows or Linux system as a file server does work. The problem is that you have to manage the operating system, the volumes, and the shares. Operating system updates, especially in a Windows environment, happen regularly and often need to be applied right away for security reasons. That impacts system uptime. Linux updates are less frequent and usually less urgent, but they do exist. With both Windows and Linux, overall system updates are often unrelated from updates to things like file sharing services. Built-in volume and file system choices are often quite limiting as well. Companies wanting to have advanced storage management or data protection features such as snapshots are often forced to purchase third-party arrays or expensive storage management software.
NAS filers solved many of those problems, but they did not solve all of them. Specifically, there is the concern of continuing data growth, which forces administrators to plan accordingly. Proper volume sizing is important, because many volumes cannot easily expand or shrink after their expansion. Plus, IT now has to manage a silo of storage that is typically outside of the purview of the virtual infrastructure.
Is there a better way to give VMs file services? A virtual filer with cloud connectivity, perhaps? We will discuss this in our on demand webinar ”Do Hyperconverged Systems Need File Services?”.