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Technical Insight: File Storage Selection – NAS vs Global File Systems

Evaluating Solutions to Extend Files to the Cloud


Cloud storage is already a key piece of many organizations’ overall IT strategy, and many companies have initiatives to further increase cloud usage. The cloud is an appealing option to organizations for several factors. It offers low-cost storage tiers for infrequently accessed data, off-site storage for data protection and disaster recovery plans, and on-demand scalability. In addition, utilizing the cloud reduces an organization’s requirement for managing and maintaining physical hardware. Meanwhile, on-premises storage has continued to show its strengths, especially regarding performance, and is not disappearing anytime soon. This requires IT organizations to find solutions that strike a balance between realizing the benefits of on-premises storage and the cloud.

When considering file storage, there are several distinct strategies for incorporating cloud usage. One is an on-premises NAS with an added cloud component. Another is a Global File System solution. Both are capable of providing a similar result – on-premises file access, performance, and familiarity with an attached cloud component – but they utilize a fundamentally different design. Confusion between these solutions and their usage is only further complicated by inconsistent naming conventions across solutions. This paper seeks to outline the differences between a NAS solution with cloud connectivity and a Global File System, and when each solution might be appropriate.

Fundamental Differences

To understand the advantages and disadvantages to using either a NAS solution with cloud connectivity or a Global File System, the two solutions should first be clearly defined. NAS with cloud connectivity is somewhat self-descriptive. In this scenario, public clouds may be combined with on-premises NAS for backup, tiering, disaster recovery, or as an extension of primary storage for certain workloads. This type of setup uses the cloud for specific use cases to complement on-premises storage. On-premises NAS is sold by well-established IT vendors including Dell, IBM, NetApp, and others, and most build in support for some type of cloud connectivity such as tiering or backup.

A Global File System utilizes a fundamentally different architecture. In these solutions, cloud storage – typically object storage – serves as the core storage element for files and metadata, while caching devices are utilized on-premises to provide data access. These devices can be physical but are increasingly available as virtual solutions that can be deployed in a hypervisor. This is a fundamentally different approach to adding cloud capabilities to a traditional NAS. Here, the cloud is the primary source of data storage, and any on-premises component is simply caching data from the central cloud storage to provide performance and data access as if the storage were natively stored in an on-premise fashion. There are a number of Global File System solutions available typically from smaller, privately held companies or startups including Nasuni, Panzura, Ctera, LucidLink, and Hammerspace.

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Related to this document:
Technical Insight: Global File Systems as a Solution in Challenging Times, NetApp Cloud Volumes Edge Cache – Product Brief, NAS Evaluation Guide

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September 13, 2022

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