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Cloud File Sharing

Shared File Storage: Cloud Scalability and Agility

Change is the only constant in the IT world. When it comes to cloud file sharing, changing usage rates can put enormous demands on the system. Scalability and agility have been two important characteristics where traditional on-premises storage vendors had to compete with each other, and the same is true in the cloud. In fact, scalability and agility are two of the greatest benefits that the cloud offers and are a big part of the cloud’s success: the unlimited scalability and the flexibility to scale up and down very quickly to meet sudden spikes in demand are really unmatched.

Let’s take a closer look at the demand for scalability and agility in cloud-based file shares and how the major cloud service providers and NetApp are helping enterprises meet them.

Scalability and Agility Challenges for File Services

Shared file storage capacity needs to be able to scale with changing demands for the massive data sets involved in enterprise file storage. File storage serves use cases that can see sudden, dramatic increases and decreases in usage, such as during daytime work hours, holidays, or unpredicted events. The ability to scale both up and down to meet those demand peaks and down periods is key.

What is Scalability?

Scalability is the ability to increase the size of the share and grow as needed during normal operation of the system, without impacting the expected file system performance. Cloud scalability goes beyond any of the space and rack constraints that on-prem systems have been limited by, offering a near-infinite amount of scalable resources on demand.

What is Agility?

Agility is a characteristic of how quickly and easily a system can react to changes, and be reorganized, reconfigured, or even move to other location systems. An agile file system can quickly meet changes in demand, whether to grow when there’s a spike in demand or shrink with a sudden drop off.

Since the demands on shared file storage in many cases won’t be predictable or determined ahead of time, a file share that can’t scale quickly and sufficiently could leave clients underserved in terms of access and expected performance.

Another point to keep in mind when considering scalability in cloud computing are the costs. Even if a file share service can scale adequately to meet rises in demand, adding additional cloud resources needs to be done cost-effectively or else risk consuming the entire IT budget.

Scalability and Agility in AWS and Azure native File Shares

Comparing the scalability and agility characteristics of the cloud services available today shows very diverse offerings. Amazon EFS (for NFS) grows and shrinks automatically according to current demands. As EFS is primarily dedicated for use by Amazon EC2 compute instances, users need to use Amazon Direct Connect if connecting to on-premises servers is required. Burst credits are used to determine the peak levels of performance that can be achieved, but these directly relate to the amount of data stored; as such we cannot expect enterprise-grade performance.

Amazon FSx (for SMB/CIFS) on the other hand can offer enterprise performance. The throughput capacity of Amazon FSx can be set for individual volumes. However, since charges are based on throughput, storage, and backup storage used per GB per month, respectively, scaling up will heavily affect costs. Amazon FSx volumes are also limited in size: they can only store 64 TB of data. This caps the scaling ability per share, and adding more instances will only increase costs.

Microsoft Azure Files are easily configurable but are limited to 5 TB. That can hamper scaling ability on a share level.

On Google Cloud, Cloud Filestore can be increased to 63.9 TB and has two performance options: Standard with 5,000 IOPS and Premium with a max 30,000 IOPS.

Scalability and Agility with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

A solution for the cloud scalability and agility limitations that come with the cloud based services is to use Cloud Volumes ONTAP as a shared file storage service. Cloud Volumes ONTAP is a cloud version of NetApp’s well-known ONTAP operating system available in AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP comes with several different licensing options: Explore, Standard, Premium, and an option to design your own license. As well as higher rates of performance, each of these performance classes comes with different amounts of storage. For enterprise-grade file shares, users will most likely require Premium of BYOL.

Explore: Ideal for smaller workloads. This option provides up to 2 TB of underlying AWS or Azure storage.

Standard: With a greater ability to scale, the Standard option provides up to 10 TB of underlying AWS or Azure storage.

Premium: Supports up to 368TB. This option is best for the most demanding workloads, such as enterprise-level file service.

An additional option is the Bring Your Own License (BYOL) model. With a BYOL license, the NetApp cloud architect team will help define the exact resources and performance rate that your workloads require, with up to 368 TB storage.

Cloud Volumes ONTAP is fully capable of changing instance types, creating volume aggregates using different disk types, dynamically resizing or expanding volumes, moving infrequently-used data automatically between storage tiers, leveraging data clones to create new cost-effective volumes, and, as we’ll see below, replicating data between systems, making sure that files are synced no matter how many repositories need to be in use to meet demand spikes. As all these tools are accessible via API calls, they can be completely developer driven.

Keeping file shares synchronized between different regions, clouds, or on-prem systems requires powerful data replication tools. In this case, Cloud Volumes ONTAP use SnapMirror®. Users who are already using NetApp storage in their data center can replicate and synchronize data between on-premises and the cloud, cloud regions, or cloud to cloud. All this can be done keeping the data synchronized through incremental updates. The range of functionality provided by SnapMirror, and its integration with other Cloud Volumes ONTAP features, make this flexible data replication feature a central component to a scalable file service.

Other important scaling and agility features include:

  • FlexGroup: Allows volumes to expand on several aggregates up to 368 TB.
  • FlexCache: This managing cache allows remote locations to get faster access to file shares.
  • NetApp Cloud Manager can expand storage automatically through the use of the automatic capacity management feature. Manual configuration is available via the the System Manager.


Production cloud workloads can be unpredictable: that’s why cloud scalability and agility are two essential factors in today’s IT environments. Changes in usage are something which file shares need to meet all the time and the response needs to be quick and at minimal cost. Cloud Volumes ONTAP is one of the most scalable and agile solutions in today’s cloud-based file services.

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Aviv Degani, Cloud Solutions Architecture Manager, NetApp

Cloud Solutions Architecture Manager, NetApp