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FSx for Windows: An In-Depth Look

What Is FSx for Windows?

Amazon FSx for Windows File Server is a managed file storage solution. It provides complete Windows file servers running a native Windows file system - this means organizations do not need to undertake the effort of setting up a file server. The service also keeps Windows software up-to-date, can detect and address hardware failures, and can back up data and workloads.

A common use case is to move Windows applications as-is to the AWS cloud in a lift-and-shift model. Amazon FSx for Windows can be used for mission critical business applications, web serving, home directories, content management, continuous integration (CI) workflows and data analytics.

FSx for Windows provides predictable, low latency in the sub-millisecond range, which makes it possible to move demanding enterprise applications to the cloud. It also natively supports the server message mlock (SMB) protocol, which enables seamless access to file shares over the network.

In this article:

FSx for Windows Benefits

Built on Windows Server

Amazon FSx for Windows offers a comprehensive set of features, including user quotas, access control lists (ACLs) and end-user file restore. The service integrates with on-premises AWS Microsoft Managed AD and Microsoft Active Directory (AD).

The service employs the SMB protocol to natively provide Windows-based applications with access to fully-compatible shared file storage. These SMB file shares are not restricted to Windows and can be accessed from MacOS and Linux, ensuring that any user or application can access storage resources regardless of their operating system.

Lowest-Cost SMB File Storage in the Cloud

Amazon FSx for Windows offers durable and highly available file storage from as little as $0.013 per GB-month. You can use data deduplication features to remove redundant data and further optimize costs. You can also scale throughput capacity and increase your file system storage. This can help you easily respond to changing business needs. Additionally, the service does not have any licensing fees or upfront costs.

Related content: read our guide to Amazon FSx pricing 

Fast and Flexible Performance

Amazon FSx for Windows provides the throughput, consistent sub-millisecond latency and IOPS per file system needed for Windows workloads. The service provides several storage options, including SSD and HDD, as well as customizable throughput.

Additionally, the service lets you use DFS Namespaces for massive scalability:

  • Throughput up to 10s of GBs per second
  • Millions of I/O operations per second (IOPS)
  • Petabyte-scale data

Broadly Accessible

Amazon FSx for Windows employs the SMB protocol, letting you integrate smoothly with Amazon AppStream, Amazon EC2, Amazon WorkSpaces, VMware Cloud on AWS, Amazon ECS, and other Amazon services.

FSx for Windows supports all versions of Windows (from Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008). It enables access to FSx for Windows file systems from local data centers via AWS VPN or Direct Connect, and fast access from multiple Amazon regions, accounts, or VPCs using AWS Transit Gateway.

How Does Amazon FSx for Windows Work?

You can leverage Amazon FSx for Windows for basic Windows storage. You can also use the service to host applications, set it up to work as a storage repository for backup data, or use it as a file share for Windows compute instances.

The service offers several levels of compliance and security, which can help you protect your data. Amazon FSx for Windows can automatically encrypt data at rest (for file systems as well as backups). It uses keys that you can manage from your AWS Key Management Service (AWS KMS) account.

Amazon FSx for Windows protects data by automatically creating backups of the file system, performed on a custom schedule. You can replicate file system data across any AWS region that supports Amazon FSx for Windows.

Here are several service deployment prerequisites:

  • An AWS account with permissions that allow you to create Amazon FSx for Windows file systems and an AWS EC2 instance.
  • A Windows EC2 instance running in VPC with RDP enabled. You also need to enable the administrator role.
  • AWS Directory services running with the latest configuration on your console.
  • Join your Windows EC2 instance to the running AWS Directory service.

Amazon FSx for Windows Architecture and Performance

Amazon FSx for Windows File Server provides an efficient performance model, achieved through the architecture of the service. Client compute instances may exist on-premises or in the AWS cloud. Regardless of their location, instances can access the file system through an elastic network interface (ENI).

The ENI resides in an AWS VPC, which you need to associate with the file system. The Windows file server is located behind the file system ENI. The file server is responsible for serving data over your network to any client accessing your file system.

To enhance performance, Amazon FSx for Windows offers a fast in-memory cache placed on the file server. This is typically used for frequently-accessed data. The disks or storage volumes that host your file system data are located behind the file server.

The following diagram illustrates the architecture components.

perf-architecture-fsxWImage Source: AWS

In addition to the above architectural components, there are several ways to improve performance when using the FSx for Windows service:

  • Improving network performance between FSx for Windows clients and the file server, for example by setting up a dedicated network connection between on-premises clients and AWS.
  • Adapting working sets to cache size, either by ensuring that the number of files transferred at any given time is smaller than the size of the available in-memory cache or increasing the size of the cache.
  • Improving disk performance by using faster storage and enabling higher throughput between the file server and storage volumes.

Amazon FSx for NetApp ONTAP

In collaboration with NetApp, AWS has launched Amazon FSx for NetApp ONTAP, a new cloud-based managed shared file and block storage service that brings the best of both worlds to their customers.

FSx for ONTAP delivers NFS, SMB and iSCSI storage powered by NetApp’s advanced data management system, with features and benefits that go beyond other AWS offerings:

Click here for a step-by-step walkthrough on how to set up your own FSx for ONTAP environment with BlueXP Console.

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Yifat Perry, Technical Content Manager

Technical Content Manager