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Cloud File Sharing

Azure NAS: Why and How to Use NAS Storage in Azure

Cloud-based Network Attached Storage (NAS) helps you address storage needs in the cloud using the same constructs as an on-premises NAS system. This technology gives organizations storage that’s as performant as their on-prem NAS with the added ability to scale in the cloud—and all without having to make major changes to their existing application interfaces and processes. This is a great way to begin cloud file sharing.

The familiar approach of accessing and using NAS storage will work, without the overhead costs of procuring, configuring, and managing an actual NAS storage box. With exponential data growth being a common concern, cloud-based NAS is often one of the preferred solutions for enterprise customers.

NetApp Cloud volumes ONTAP is one such cloud-based storage solution available in Azure which can provide best in class cloud based NAS services over NFS and SMB/ CIFS for your workloads. In this blog, we will discuss the relevance of NAS hosting in Azure and how Cloud Volumes ONTAP can help you here with advanced data management capabilities.

Network Attached Storage

NAS is a centralized storage appliance that allows applications and services to access data from a centralized location in the network. All current NAS devices use an extensible architecture, which allows you to increase the storage capacity either by adding more disks or by connecting it to other storage units. NAS units are popular in SMBs (Small and Medium Businesses), but are also used by enterprises for another of other reasons, including:

  • Lower cost of ownership
  • Simple configuration and management
  • Built-in data backup mechanisms
  • Easy extensibility

Virtual NAS

Virtual NAS is the virtual appliance version of NAS systems that can run on virtualization platforms such as VMware, Hyper-V, etc. It offers data storage services to other machines in the network, the same way that a physical device would do. The big difference is costs. Since the entire appliance is virtualized, there is no additional investment required to scale up Virtual NAS as there is with their physical NAS counterparts.

Network devices accessing Virtual NAS storage can continue to do so using the same protocols without any reconfiguration. Capacity management is also easier since any required storage can be allocated from the underlying virtualization layer. It could be as simple as adding more virtual hard disks to the Virtual appliance.

However, it should be noted that Virtual NAS storage does have a performance dependency on the hardware in which the virtualization platform is installed. That’s because all of the user requests pass through an additional hypervisor layer. The upside is that in case there is a performance or network bottleneck, you can easily migrate Virtual NAS devices to hosts with better specifications.

What is Cloud NAS?

Cloud NAS is the equivalent of your NAS device, but hosted in the cloud. Unlike traditional NAS devices on-premises which come prepackaged with compute and storage capacity in a box, Cloud NAS solutions use the compute, storage, and network capabilities offered by a cloud service provider to offer the N

AS service. While many cloud platforms offer NAS or NAS-like capabilities, services such as Cloud Volume ONTAP in Azure enhances the native storage benefits with additional features such as deduplication, compression, and thin provisioning storage efficiencies, incremental snapshots, advanced cloning capabilities, multiprotocol access, and much more.

NAS Hosting in the Cloud

NAS hosting in the cloud in the “do-it-yourself” approach using native cloud resources could be challenging in terms of configuration, scalability, and security settings. In Azure, you could use Expressroute or site-to-site VPN to extend your existing data center to the cloud and access your on-premises NAS devices. However, this would involve complex configurations on the networking side, never mind the fact that this would be overkill if the purpose is just to use the on-premises NAS via the cloud.

You could also use a share in Azure Files which allows you to create shared folders in the cloud and access over the SMB protocol or RESTful APIs (see more on this below). Cloud Volumes ONTAP offers another NAS storage solution, one that allows you to create file shares and access them over native SMB and NFS file sharing protocols at the same time. It uses the same set of interfaces and tools that come with on-premises storage systems, meaning it can be adopted with minimal learning curve for your IT team.

Cloud NAS Backup

Whether hosted on-premises or in the cloud, protecting data in NAS storage from unexpected failures or corruption is very important. While traditional Network level file backup, NAS data replication, or Network Data Management Protocol (NDMP) -based backups will work for traditional NAS, cloud NAS backup needs more advanced online backup methods. Cloud Volumes ONTAP offers one.

Using a zero-impact snapshot-based backup mechanism, will help you carry out point-in-time recovery of any lost or corrupted data without adversely affecting application performance.

NAS Cloud Storage

NAS solutions in the cloud leverage the native storage capabilities available in the platform and build a layer of features on top of that. While this means gaining the performance buffs the cloud provides, it may introduce other limitations that may impact your NAS usage. Azure offers high performance premium storage, which is recommended for hosting cloud-based NAS solutions in order to get optimal throughput. Cloud Volumes ONTAP can be configured to use Premium SSD, Standard SSD, or Standard HDD Managed disks in Azure, offering a balance between cost and performance that best suits the nature of the workload.

Azure Cloud Storage

Azure cloud storage is offered to cater to use cases such as object storage for unstructured data, file share over SMB, messaging store for applications as well as a No-SQL data storage. Azure Files offer services aligned with NAS, where the created shares can be accessed simultaneously by multiple hosts on-premises or in the cloud with read/write permissions.

Azure File Storage

Azure Files file storage helps you to store data in highly available cloud-based file shares, that can be accessed using a URL from any location with network connectivity to the share. Azure Files uses SMB protocol to provide secure access to your data, so that it can be used from any device that supports the protocol. It is a managed service offering with all the backend infrastructure provisioning and management handled by Azure. The service primarily targets the following use cases:

  • Migration: Lift and shift applications to cloud which could have a dependency on on-premises file shares or NAS.
  • Application hosting: Give your applications hosted in Azure access to NAS services without having to deal with setting up and configuring the infrastructure.
  • Consolidation: Provide a centralized storage location in cloud for your configuration data or diagnostics logs that will be accessed by multiple users or resources.

Azure Files file shares have a limitation in that they only support the SMB protocol. Cloud Volumes ONTAP enables users to access shares over SMB/ CIFS, NFS, as well as iSCSI in Azure or in on-premises storage locations. Cloud Volumes ONTAP also enables easy migration of data through NetApp SnapMirror® data replication technology. The FlexClone® cloning mechanism allows you to create writable, zero-capacity copies of your data volumes in Azure through cloning for the purpose of testing and evaluation before moving your applications to production.

Azure File Server

You can integrate your on-premises file servers with Azure file shares using Azure File Sync. This service enables customers to combine the flexibility of traditional file servers while leveraging the Azure file share to keep an offshore copy of the same data. Customers can continue to use on-premises file services using familiar processes, while having the capability of keeping data in multiple locations in sync. The service can be easily enabled using a non-disruptive agent. In the event of a file server failure, the data can be synchronized to a different server directly from the Azure file share thereby enabling DR capabilities for your critical file shares. Cloud Volumes ONTAP has automated failover and failback DR processes enabled through SnapMirror.

Conclusion: Get More with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

Azure NAS services can be implemented using multiple approaches to depending on whether the use case focuses on cloud only or hybrid-cloud scenarios. Cloud Volumes ONTAP integrates well into both the scenarios, by offering unique value propositions over native Azure cloud storage capabilities. It offers a single management pane for deploying and configuring your storage on-premises as well as in the cloud. In addition to improved storage economy, the service also ensures data availability through dual-node high availability deployment architectures.

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Yifat Perry, Technical Content Manager

Technical Content Manager