nutanix

Nutanix Advances Enterprise Cloud Strategy by Eliminating Requirement for Separate Network-attached Storage (NAS)

We are proud to announce Acropolis File Services (AFS), a web-scale native file serving solution built using the same technology that powers Nutanix Enterprise Clouds. AFS lets customers simplify their datacenters further by addressing the cost, complexity and scalability challenges associated with storing and serving unstructured data like home directories, user profiles, application logs and department shares.

The Why: Simplify, Eliminate Silos & Consolidate

A key attribute of an enterprise cloud is making the complex invisible: Functionality deploys in minutes, seamlessly expands, self-heals on failures, upgrades with a single click without service disruption, and the list goes on. AFS brings this much needed simplicity to what is traditionally an IT silo – file storage. Running on the same Nutanix infrastructure running user virtual machines, AFS obviates the need for stand-alone NAS appliances, allows for infrastructure consolidation and collapses yet another use case onto Nutanix infrastructure.

 

Redefining Hyperconvergence

Much like how Acropolis virtualization changed the definition of hyperconvergence, AFS now redefines hyperconvergence to combine compute, storage, virtualization and unstructured data management. Customers are fully operational with virtual machines and files, out-of-the-box natively.

The What: AFS Details

Available through a non-disruptive software upgrade across all Nutanix platforms, AFS is deployed and managed from Nutanix Prism in a matter of clicks and helps address the complexity challenges that IT administrators are all too familiar with when dealing with unstructured data. AFS is highly available by design, without performance or capacity bottlenecks, and highly scalable. Customers also realize all of the same benefits of DSF – intelligent tiering, deduplication, compression, erasure coding and native data protection.

With a cloud service-like deployment model, customers can enable AFS at any time on their current or new Nutanix clusters, grow or shrink the AFS footprint, but maintain fine grained control and security of their on-prem infrastructure.

Capability & Feature Set

AFS inherits all of the core capability of the Nutanix DSF and additionally delivers several features to better manage unstructured data. The first release focuses on user data like home directories, user profiles and department shares. Key features include:

Management:

  • Deploy in a few clicks
  • Manage through Prism
  • Manage a single namespace across the AFS file server, no matter how large
  • Upgrades in 1-Click
    • First release in minutes; next release target is sub-minute

Scalability:

  • No theoretical limit on number of nodes in the AFS cluster
    • First release practical limits, aligning with Nutanix infrastructure limits
  • Billions of files (by design)
    • First release qualification limits in the 10s of millions
  • 10s of thousands of user sessions
    • First release qualification limits in the 1000s of users

Capacity & Performance Expansion:

  • Automatically expands capacity and performance, based on defined thresholds
    • Manual in the first release but performanced in a few clicks

Availability & Data protection: 

  • Native HA with fast failovers (~10s) minimizing or eliminating disruptions
  • Automatic protection with snapshots
  • User driver self-service restores integrated with windows previous versions, allowing users to perform restores from within their Windows machines

Deployment Flexibility:

  • Enable on Nutanix infrastructure clusters running VMs, co-locating Files with VMs
    • Utilize unused capacity on the Nutanix cluster
  • Deploy standalone for centralized management
  • Multiple AFS clusters can be deployed on a single Nutanix infrastructure cluster

Protocols:

  • First release support for SMB 2.1, the standard for home dirs., user profiles, dept. shares
    • SMB 3.0 & NFS in future releases

Integrated with Active Directory, AFS will add several more features focused on users and applications in the next release.

Deploy AFS in just a few clicks

Traditional NAS deployments are complex and require that administrators go through several low value activities to get the system operational. One has to setup RAID groups, aggregate storage, create volumes and layer on a file protocol, to name a few. These activities must be repeated every time the NAS appliance is expanded or a new appliance stood up.

Customers can deploy the Acropolis File Service in a few clicks. Start by entering basic sizing information:

 

Then enter environmental networking information:

 

And finish with AD details and credentials:

 

At this point the AFS service is enabled and customers can begin serving files to end users and applications.

AFS Deployments are Flexible

Traditional NAS appliances are typically purpose-built for file serving and are therefore a poor choice for other kinds of data, contributing to the problem of infrastructure silos, each provided by a different vendor requiring different expertise to manage. Contrast this to Nutanix, with AFS, taking a consolidation approach to infrastructure management.

Application VMs, end-users (VDI) and files typically scale in-step. As new users are brought onboard, the file storage for home directories, user profiles and corresponding department shares all need to grow. The same holds true for applications which require file storage for logs and other unstructured data sets.

Deploying AFS along with virtualization applications and desktops on the same Nutanix cluster allows in-step scaling. Applications, users and file storage consolidates on the same cluster, improving cluster utilization and unifying management.

 

On the other end of the spectrum, some customers prefer to manage file storage centrally, especially true in environments with heterogenous infrastructure all looking to leverage a centralized file server. AFS also supports this use case and can be deployed as a centralized standalone AFS cluster.

 

Performance and storage can be scaled independently. If additional storage capacity is needed, a storage heavy (but light compute) Nutanix node can be easily added to the cluster.

The How: AFS Under the hood

 

Acropolis File Services (AFS) has been designed with scalability and extensibility in mind:

  • AFS instances are each backed by an autonomous file system and protocol stack, with distributed metadata for Share, Directory and File structures
    • File system is highly scalable for files and data/metadata operations
    • Currently supports SMB 2.1, but adding support for NFS and SMB 3.0 is a matter of developing or extending protocol adapters
  • Instances are clustered together in a distributed system forming the AFS cluster
  • AFS cluster is deployed on a Nutanix cluster
    • Designed with High Availability in mind
      • If a node fails, HA kicks in and Clients reconnect in roughly 10 seconds
    • Multiple AFS clusters can be deployed on the same Nutanix cluster
  • Inherits goodness from the Nutanix cluster
    • Resiliency, Availability, Durability
    • Storage Efficiencies including Deduplication, Compression, Erasure Coding

AFS Compared to Leading NAS Appliances

We covered some basic differences between AFS and traditional NAS appliances in the earlier sections, now let’s explore this topic in more detail:

Enterprise Grade
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
Offers enterprise grade resiliency, availability and data protection. Inherits Nutanix infrastructure resiliency, availability and data protection.
Consolidation Value
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
NAS Appliances are “dedicated purpose built” boxes meant only for storing unstructured data (a.k.a files).

Therefore, If customers need performance intrinsic VM storage they buy another storage system better suited for virtual machines, leading to islands of storage.

System is optimized for both unstructured data and VMs, allowing for storage consolidation.

This consolidation leads to better infrastructure utilization.

Cost ($/GB)
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
Offer techniques like Deduplication and Compression which work well on File data. However, these methods are not global and savings are therefore limited. Offers Deduplication, Compression and Erasure Coding all of which help reduce storage footprint.

If existing Nutanix clusters have spare capacity, AFS simply makes use of this without needing additional resources for file storage. In such a case, additional $/GB is effectively zero.

Deployment Flexibility
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
One deployment mode: deploy the system as Networked Storage for end users and applications. Flexible deployment modes:
– Co-exist with app VMs on the same cluster
– Standalone cluster if centralized management is desired
Generalist vs. Specialist
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
Need specialized NAS expertise to deploy and operate the NAS Appliance. No NAS expertise required to deploy and operate AFS.
Setup
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
Setup RAID groups, aggregate storage, create volumes and layer file protocols Setup in a few simple clicks
Managing Shares, Directories and Files
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
Namespaces do not scale and fracture as a consequence. Most customers manage upto 50 namespaces per NAS Appliance. Additionally, each namespace has to be backed up, replicated and recovered separately. Single namespace across a File server with no theoretical size limits.
Scaling (Physical Capacity)
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
Must add disk shelves for additional capacity. However, NAS controller heads, that expose storage, can quickly become the bottleneck. Simply add a server node with plenty of storage.
Scaling (Virtual Capacity)
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
Volumes – typically the virtual capacity abstraction – have limits. New volumes must be provisioned to scale capacity. At times new volumes are created and a heavyweight copy based migration performed from the old volume into the new one. As long as physical resources are available, AFS can expand automatically once a capacity threshold is crossed.

Note that in the first release virtual capacity scaling is manual but performed in just a couple of clicks.

Scaling (Performance)
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
Once the controller heads in the NAS Appliance become a bottleneck, customers have no choice but to purchase a new system. As long as physical resources are available, AFS can automatically scale-up or scale-out for improved data and metadata performance.

Note that in the first release performance scaling is manual but performed in just a couple of clicks.

Scaling (Number of Files & Sessions)
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
Typically run into inode and protocol limits at scale leading to artificial limits on the number of files and number of sessions, per NAS Appliance. Since AFS is a cluster of individual File server instances, backed by an autonomous file system and protocol stack, adding instances linearly increases file and session scalability.
Upgrading the File Server
LEADING NAS APPLIANCES ACROPOLIS FILE SERVICES (AFS)
Lose up to 50% of NAS Appliance performance when upgrading software, so typically customers take maintenance windows for software upgrades. With one-click rolling updates, upgrades can be done with almost no impact to performance or requiring maintenance windows.

AFS Compared to Amazon Elastic File Storage

AWS offers a file storage solution as well. Customers may experience sticker shock when they see the price of Amazon Elastic File Storage (EFS):

 

At @30 cents per GB per month, EFS can cost as much as ~$15 per GB over the lifetime of typical enterprise storage infrastructure (4 years) and comes at a hefty premium over Nutanix AFS and indeed even legacy NAS Appliances.

AWS Elastic File Storage (EFS) is currently in preview mode so detailed information around usability, scalability and performance is unavailable. However, we expect that customers will see many parallels to Nutanix Acropolis File Services (AFS) in terms of operational simplicity.

Conclusion

With AFS, Nutanix redefines hyperconvergence to now include the combination of compute, storage, virtualization and unstructured data management. Characteristics of the public cloud – deployments in a few clicks, just-in-time provisioning, scale-in and scale-out elasticity – are apparent in AFS and now available to enterprises of all sizes.

AFS is available today in tech preview through a non-disruptive software upgrade. Give it a try and let us know what you think! You can also read more about AFS in the Nutanix Bible.