The Requirements of Next Generation File Servers

File servers used to be a way for users to share information within the organization, typically within the same building. Organizations of all sizes use Windows File Servers to meet this requirement. Times have changed and the need to collaborate continues to increase encompassing more users and locations. Traditional file servers can no longer keep pace with these demands.

Users, and in fact organizations, are no longer self-contained within a single building. Organizations have multiple data centers and their users work from a variety of locations around the world. At the same time the workload is often shared between these offices with users working on the same files at different times. Finally, the 9 to 5 workday is a relic of the past, with users connecting to each other at all times of the day, and global clients requiring round the clock service.

The State of the File Server

Organizations need to reconsider their file server strategy for two reasons. First, traditional file servers can’t keep pace with the new expectations of them. Just serving files is table stakes, the focus is now on enhancing user productivity and securing data.

Second, and potentially a more pragmatic reason to reconsider the organization’s file server strategy is that Microsoft announced the end of support for Windows Server 2008 which means the thousands of organizations world-wide that use Windows File Servers 2008 need to look for something new. The default upgrade is to use the next version of Windows Server. But as even Microsoft points out, this often requires a hardware upgrade from the systems that ran 2008. IT planners instead should take advantage of the opportunity to explore new options that leverage the cloud to provide a truly global distribution of data and improve data protection.

The Requirements of the Next Generation File Server

Modern File Servers must provide file sharing and collaboration across multiple sites. The challenge with providing multi-site collaboration is how to properly share data across those sites. Forcing users through a virtual private network (VPN) to a centralized server can significantly slows down performance and do not always deliver maximum security. Instead, modern file serving solutions should leverage the cloud as the primary storage area and as a mechanism to share data securely and efficiently.

Leveraging the cloud also addresses the next requirement of next generation file servers, scaling. Unstructured data continues grow at an unprecedented rate with no end in sight. Traditional file servers quickly run out of capacity, which leads to the implementation of more and more file servers and storage. The cost and complexity of managing multiple NAS solutions is prohibitive. By contrast, the cloud provides a single method of storage that can scale almost infinitely.

The cloud, however, causes a challenge in meeting the third requirement of next generation file servers, high performance. Performance is increasingly a critical element in file server consideration, both to meet user expectations and the very real demands of applications that interact with network shares.

To overcome the performance challenge, a cloud centered solution should provide an edge capability so that for each location’s most active files the users experience fast, local performance. These edge devices can be flash based without breaking the budget. All files go immediately to the cloud, but active files are available quickly. Much of the IP of the next generation file server is in managing the distribution of data to the edge so that its capacity is used efficiently, and the users rarely experience cloud latency.

Another key requirement is reduced infrastructure and administration costs. Since the cloud can be the centralized repository for file data, capacity management should be greatly simplified. Administrators don’t have to play a guessing game regarding how much capacity they may or may not need at each location. The typical 3-year planning cycle can be abandoned for a much simpler pay as you go model. Perhaps best of all, there is no wasted capacity – every TB purchased can be based on need. Provisioning doesn’t require physically installing disk racks and can be done with the touch of a button.

The ability to maintain security and access control is probably one of the most important capabilities for next generation file servers. Moving from one solution to another, for example from Windows File Server 2008 to a cloud file service based in Azure, should preserve all security protocols while enabling users to continue working uninterrupted.

Our next blog will discuss the next requirement; data protection which as the data set grows is more challenging than ever and as new data privacy laws and regulations come into place is more important than ever.

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Twelve years ago George Crump founded Storage Switzerland with one simple goal; to educate IT professionals about all aspects of data center storage. He is the primary contributor to Storage Switzerland and is a heavily sought after public speaker. With over 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for data centers across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS and SAN, Virtualization, Cloud and Enterprise Flash. Prior to 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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