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Build Your Own Azure NFS? Wrestling Linux File Shares into Cloud

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September 16, 2019

Topics: Azure NetApp Files 6 minute read

In today’s IT climate, all roads lead to the cloud. The real question is no longer if enterprises will move to the cloud; instead, enterprises are asking how easy—or difficult—it is to get there. For line-of-business applications dependent on high-performance Linux shared file services, the cloud adoption process can be a daunting one. Applications of all shapes and sizes [whether high performance computing (HPC) applications, analytics services, or databases] need to be migrated or built in the cloud. While the cloud offers compute power to meet these application demands, Linux shared file services often struggle to compete.

This service gap presents a unique challenge for enterprises seeking to deploy Linux applications in Azure. It often becomes a core reason for stalling/postponing cloud adoption because customers aren’t aware of services like Azure NetApp Files (ANF), which helps to resolve the issue.

ANF is a fully managed file service in the cloud. It’s a Microsoft Azure first-party service, built on trusted NetApp technology, sold and supported by Microsoft. In this blog, we explore some of the major challenges faced by organizations attempting to host applications dependent on Linux file services. We delve into the solutions offered by Azure—including managed disks and Azure NetApp Files—to understand why ANF is the ideal solution for your Linux workloads in Azure.

File Services in Azure

The majority of Linux applications that are migrated from on-premises to Azure don’t support object data for file management in the cloud. While migration, or even greenfield deployment, of applications with a file requirement in Azure is possible, it can be complicated. Enterprises often find themselves pressed to take a do-it-yourself approach, where they must build sprawling file server clusters using Azure compute and managed disks to serve Azure NFS file shares.

The compute needs of those applications can be met by a VM in the compute-optimized SKU (FSv2) or even a general purpose SKU (Dsv3, Dasv3, DSv2). A managed disk can be deployed from one of the SKUs available, depending on the performance requirements (for example, Ultra, Premium SSD, Standard SSD, and Standard HDD). Deploying manually-built infrastructure for self-hosted Linux file shares can be extremely challenging and complex. particularly when supporting the enterprise requirements of applications. Features such as high availability, resilience, security, access management, and backup are not functions of typical infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) resources.

All of these variables demand governance. That means companies have to make a significant investment in a dedicated cloud team to perfect a design that meets all of these needs. And, even in a perfect world, there are tradeoffs in terms of cost, performance, and sizing. Designing for a large-scale environment is even more challenging: Azure managed disks only support a maximum disk size of 32TB. If your file shares need greater capacity—which is common for use cases like analytics and databases—you would need to use additional configurations like Raid or LVM. Managing the lifecycle and security needs of such a cumbersome system, built only to support Linux file shares, would call for a team with expertise in these specialized storage configurations.

But these problems can be avoided altogether with Azure NetApp Files, which acts as a “file-share-as-a-service” solution for your Linux shared file needs. It takes care of all the nitty gritty details of configuration, management, and security. It simplifies access with an intuitive management interface and high security—backed by trusted NetApp® technology—without all the back-breaking labor.

The Benefits of Azure NetApp Files

Azure NetApp Files is a shared file service with a cloud-native approach. Setting up a file server on your own using the IaaS model can be a lengthy, complicated process; yet with ANF, it takes just a few simple configuration steps executed directly within the Azure portal before the NFS and SMB file shares in your applications are ready. It imparts the agility and innovation that a fast-paced cloud adoption strategy demands.

ANF is a bare-metal-like service in Azure with the enterprise capabilities one would expect from dedicated infrastructure in the data center but with the flexibility and agility of the cloud. It offers on-demand scalability, combined with high availability and performance, meaning that setting up a file share no longer requires storage-centric expertise or exhaustive capacity and performance planning exercises.

ANF is delivered as a true first-party service in Azure that’s managed through the Azure portal. It’s a crucial part of Microsoft and NetApp’s efforts to bridge the gap of enterprise class file services in Azure. ANF allows you to adopt a faster migration and deployment approach for Linux-file-share-dependent applications without rearchitecting them or going through strenuous infrastructure deployment exercises. It combines the benefits of NetApp technology and the agility of the Azure cloud platform without requiring the purchase of any product hardware or software licenses. It also addresses the concerns of customers that are skeptical about making the move to the cloud because of a perceived discrepancy between on-premises and cloud storage capabilities and response levels.

How Azure NetApp Files Makes Linux File Shares Frustration-Free

Azure NetApp Files makes it easy to provision file shares for Linux workloads directly from the Azure portal without having to plan or deploy an NFS file server. The NFS volumes can be accessed directly from VNets, thus ensuring easier integration with Linux workloads in Azure.

ANF also supports Azure RBAC-based access control allowing you to define the rights for provisioning and managing volumes. Export policies can be created directly from Azure portal to control access to Azure NetApp Files Volumes. ANF’s (SMB 3.1 and NFSv3) multiprotocol support provides the flexibility to use either of these protocols as the workload demands.

With minimal configuration and management overhead, ANF makes deploying Linux file shares easy.

Delivering on Enterprise Standards

There are a number of non-negotiable standards that any application deployed in the cloud should meet. ANF has built-in support for these standards when it comes to Linux file share service in the cloud. These include:

  • Scalability on demand: You can spin up volumes of up to 100TB in seconds or automate the process through REST APIs.
  • Multiple service tiers: Standard, Premium, and Ultra service tiers are designed to meet the specific performance (throughput and IOPS) demands of your applications. You can elastically switch between levels without application disruption.
  • Best-in-class data security: With FIPS-140-2-compliant encryption for data at rest, RBAC on Azure management plane, and network-based ACLs for provisioned volumes.
  • Multi-protocol support: ANF supports NFSv3 and SMB 3.1, enabling the customer to use the same service for both Linux and Windows workloads in Azure.
  • Single unified management interface: Provisioning and configuration can be done directly from the Azure portal, thereby eliminating the learning curve for Azure administrators.
  • Supported by Microsoft: Customer support and invoicing are managed by Microsoft. That means no additional contractual overhead.

Innovation Over Tradition

Azure NetApp Files has a definitive edge over the traditional approach of deploying Linux file solutions designed using IaaS components. With ANF, you can free up your cloud engineers to focus on business projects, rather than bogging them down with infrastructure maintenance activities. It’s a win-win situation for existing and new Azure customers looking for rapid migration options for their move to the cloud, without compromising availability, performance, and security.

How Quickly Can You Spin Up a Cloud Volume in Azure NetApp Files?

Discover how Azure NetApp files can help with your Linux file share requirements.

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