File serving is evolving to file collaboration and the cloud is an ideal destination for this evolved use case. The file system, the software behind the file server, needs to change to keep up with this evolved use case. Simply adding a sync and share service on top of a legacy file system and file service won’t solve the problem.
A Cloud File System
The edge appliances act as a cache keeping a copy of each location’s most active data on-premises. When a user creates or modifies a file with a cloud native file server, the new or modified data is stored in a local cache on an edge appliance. The edge appliance can be a physical or virtual machine. The edge appliance then replicates that data to the centralized cloud repository. Once in the repository the new or modified data is available to the organization’s other users. A copy of the data stays on the edge appliance while it is active and until the appliance reaches its watermark. Users though see a global view of the organization’s data beyond what is available just on the appliance. They can, if permissions allow, access data that another location creates or modifies, and they can access their location’s older data, which is not on the edge appliance.
The cloud file system also respects security services like, Active Directory, to ensure that users can only access the data to which they have the necessary access rights. The result is users have access to all the data they need with a performance experience that is at least as good as their legacy file server and certainly better than accessing another location’s data via a VPN or other WAN connection.
The Value of the Cloud
The primary value of using a cloud-based file system is the reduction in data center resource requirements and a reduction in IT personnel resources. To deliver the same or better level of performance the organization needs only a small edge appliance in each location. Storage Switzerland finds that most organizations only use 10% or less of their data on a day to day basis. That active data is available on the edge appliance, and again it is specific to each location which increases the chances of the right data being on the appliance. Organizations can easily increase the size of the edge appliance’s cache for specific use cases but in almost all cases, a large percentage of data is moved to the cloud freeing up a significant amount of floor space and budget.
The result of using the cloud as a repository with edge devices also means that the organization saves a significant amount of operational time. IT administrators no longer need to manage dozens of independent NAS shares. The cloud file system is the equivalent of managing a single system. The days of multiple NAS systems from a single vendor or worse, multiple systems from different vendors based on use case, are gone.
Using the cloud as the basis for the modern file server also means nearly limitless storage capacity and locations. Solving the capacity problem means the elimination of costly and time consuming upgrades. The organization no longer needs to worry about migrating data or re-routing users to a new file server. Solving the locations issue means the organization can open as many branch offices as it needs without impacting user productivity or adding to IT user management burden.
Another value in using a cloud file system is the burden of data protection, at least for unstructured data, is handled in large part by the cloud file system. The cloud file service, depending on the cloud provider’s redundancy setting, automatically replicates data to “N” number of locations as the edge device sends data to the cloud repository, creating a multi-level disaster recovery strategy. If a location’s site goes down IT simply deploys another edge device and once metadata is replicated to the edge appliance, a process that takes a few minutes, users can immediately start accessing data. If the cloud provider has an outage, one of the edge appliances is pointed to one of the replicas.
Finally, the cloud file system is secure. In addition to respecting Active Directory settings it also makes sure that all data is encrypted both in transit and at rest. It also limits access to the encryption keys so that only the organization controls who can access what data and for how long. It can also provide protection from rogue administrators by requiring two factor confirmations of deletes, or retention policies that can’t be overridden by administrators.
Organizations are dealing with two major changes when it comes to unstructured data. The first is unstructured data’s growth. Growth of the unstructured data set has been an issue for years. The new challenge is the rate at which that growth is occurring and how that growth rate is accelerating. The rate of growth puts pressure on IT and current file server technology simply can’t keep pace with it. The second challenge is caused by the organization. Most organizations now are multi-office and multi-country but each of these locations require access to data and often the same data as the other offices.
A Cloud File System that intelligently leverages edge appliances addresses both of these issues without impacting performance. Leveraging the cloud to create a hub and spoke file system enables the organization to reduce on-premises storage investment, ease the burden of data protection and provide all locations unfettered access to all data they are authorized to access at all times.