A File System in the Cloud vs. A Cloud File System

There are two types of cloud based file systems. One is designed to extend cloud storage into the organization. The other is designed to allow organizations to run applications in the cloud but use more traditional file protocols like NFS and SMB. Both have their roles, but the organizations needs to make sure it is picking the right tool for the job.

A Cloud File System

A cloud file system is a file system that creates a hub and spoke method of distributing data. The “hub” is the central storage area, typically located at a public cloud provider like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud. The “spokes” are the organization’s local locations (data centers, branch offices, remote offices). At each spoke a software or hardware appliance is installed and it acts as a cache for that location’s most active data.

It is important to note that all vendors claiming to have a cloud file system are not created equal. The distribution of data, while critical, is just the first step. Organizations need to examine how accurate the vendor’s caching algorithms are and how efficiently they can transfer data to and from the cloud. Beyond the critical first step of data distribution, organizations need to look for solutions that provide high performance access, global file locking, granular scaling of capacity and intelligent archiving.

A File System in the Cloud

A file system in the cloud is exactly what it sounds like. The vendor creates a file system that offers traditional file protocols like NFS or SMB to cloud hosted applications. Essentially, the vendor provides an instance of their file system and the organization implements it in the cloud provider of their choice. It then allocates the appropriate storage compute performance and the storage IO.

The goal with these file systems is to speed the migration of applications to the cloud. By using a file system in the cloud the organization does not need to re-write the storage IO components of the application.

Not a Competition a Compliment

In truth, the two file system types are not in competition with each other. They are two different use cases but both accelerate an organization’s move to the cloud. In fact, it is not out of the question for the organization to have both a cloud file system to provide distributed access to its team spread across the world and a file system in the cloud to help them more quickly migrate applications.


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George Crump is the Chief Marketing Officer at VergeIO, the leader in Ultraconverged Infrastructure. Prior to VergeIO he was Chief Product Strategist at StorONE. Before assuming roles with innovative technology vendors, George spent almost 14 years as the founder and lead analyst at Storage Switzerland. In his spare time, he continues to write blogs on Storage Switzerland to educate IT professionals on all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought-after public speaker. With over 30 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, SAN, Virtualization, Cloud, and Enterprise Flash. Before founding Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest storage integrators, where he was in charge of technology testing, integration, and product selection.

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