A quick look at Nutanix Files

Updated: Jan 25, 2020

One of our customer use cases caught my eye the other day while I was perusing my armory of materials and various video artifacts to take with me to customers in my many travels around the East Bay.

Having recently spent time with NASzilla inc. in Crossman drive Sunnyvale, NAS use cases catch my eye as there are still greenbacks to be mined in them thar data center hills.

The purpose of this quick look is to potentially save any existing NAS filer customers quite a large investment outlay in replacement NAS filers.

Now the leading NAS stuff you can buy for this purpose is very nice, but it can also be very expensive.

Bugatti Veyron expensive in fact.

For years I have wondered how some of these NAS vendors get away with charging so much for what is essentially so little.

Daylight robbery it is...

It's all made up in how they license the various software features and protocols that come with your standard NAS filer product and how much capacity you buy and you pay for each protocol too.

And very nice the leading NAS filers are, all shiny and expensive with all sorts of very cool software to serve up as a NA$ $torage target or three.

IT users are mostly using Windows with Microsoft Office, O365 or the many Linux variants of the Libre Office suite that are out there that a company using these productivity suites is faced with accommodating, as well as the Mac Suite of the various Office productivity tools Apple have developed such as keynote, pages or numbers et al.

These all have a requirement to house the files these suites generate in a central location somewhere, be it in the various cloud services that come with the O365 like suites, A NAS filer target or on the computer that generated the file.

NAS systems are still very popular shared storage platforms that can allow many people to work on these files and use them for whatever purpose they have in mind and store the myriad of copies and versions each one typically spawns.

Many of these Office productivity tools can also be saved in cross platform formats which is jolly useful, when it works...

The generation of these various Office Suite files is just a small part of the sea of data the average company has to administer but it remains one of the most important for storage services that can span all infrastructure and various cloud variants the various suites use.

Even though your average NAS filer is not that spectacular in terms of its hardware setup it does serve a very important role in the scheme of things for most companies normal day to day operations purposes.

For many companies this means yet another NAS filer pair in the Data Center and the costs that go with it.

For a long time we were short of competitors in this space and NetApp had things mostly all their own way for a very long time.

Some companies deployed virtualized Microsoft servers as Widows storage targets in shock at the price of the NAS goodies, which is somewhat OK and a solution of sorts, but speedy and timely services often warranted a nice shiny new FAS filer solution be deployed. In pairs...(of course)..

For HA purposes you had to deploy a pair of them to provide a rea$onable and consistent level of $ervice.

I myself have built various custom NAS server clusters for some customers which were bare metal machines with some exotic SSD and Hard drive combinations, some high end RAID controller cards and a few Multicore Opteron Processors of the day powering the disk gymnastics action.

I used exotic Parallel file systems running on BSD Unix variants for performance reasons and they were not cheap because I used DRAM for the performance accelerator and sane orderly write to SSD purposes. A lot of DRAM is required for that to work real good.

This was to overcome the temporary write shenanigans that do not work well for the SSD layer with the RAID controller antics which were designed for spinning disk ops and not flash memory ones, so we lined it up in DRAM before write to SSD.

It fascinates me no end why storage vendors use RAID with Flash memory in SSD products.

RAID is only suitable for spinning disk. It was not designed for SSD Flash.

In fact RAID robs the SSD flash of the performance it can deliver and wears it out super quick as well.

Its like having a Bugatti Veyron shod with 17th century Stagecoach Wheels? Who would do that and why would you do that??

Even though these servers I used were clustered they were still much much cheaper than the usual OEM NAS vendor's fare...

EMC bought Isilon and took another segment of the NAS market for expensive niche NAS devices for creators of larger files like movies and TV programs that had specific properties but which were not that well suited to the millions of little file environments found out there in Office Suite productivity land.

So at that point we had NAS for one use case with large files and NAS for millions of little files type thing.

The NasZilla stuff lacked compute horsepower though, so when flash arrived there all sorts of problems presented themselves.

EMC Isilon did bring Flash memory with RAID free NAS to the table though. A valuable gift for stuff using SSD storage.

I don't want to Waffle on too much about it but some NAS vendors RAID schemas leave much to be desired when flash storage is a part of the equation, even if their READ/WRITE data paths don't merge the media divide and they are using the SSD more for metadata than data.

Some smaller companies like Panzura have attacked this market segment and had a measure of success with what they do, but its essentially another silo in the data center to worry and fret about.

This is not going in the direction that the CFO and CIO want it to go though.

They want simple to consume and simpler to operate services that are consolidated onto as few IT silos in the data center as possible, not more.

This has opened the door for the vendors of Hyper-Converged-Infrastructure platforms to offer NAS file services in many different ways.

The most common of which has been VMware virtual machines running Microsoft virtual servers offering CIFS file services for the various Microsoft office users.

To cater for Linux, MAC OS and other Unix OS platforms you can also configure Windows or Linux servers for NFS.

The problem with all of that has been scale and speed of service issues plus the administration headaches they bring.

Not many of my virtualized Windows servers offer me the performance I desire so I built my own device powered by old AMD Opteron servers three years ago because I had the hardware lying around and I know enough about Linux and Windows to build it for myself.

I built it using Ubuntu in the end, serving NFS volumes but its a nightmare to administer and I am the only user!

In the modern Data Center world though, if you are deploying Nutanix Hybrid Cloud platforms, having this file services ability would also be jolly nice and make administration a simple One Click operation and service option as well.

It did not take Nutanix long to realize this is a valid opportunity to sell file based Nutanix clusters or just offer file and block services from customer clusters.

And it was...

What started as Acropolis File Services (AFS) is now just called Nutanix Files and a lot of work has been done to make this all Enterprise Grade.

Ideal for Windows home directories and Linux host files serving departmental file shares that offer Unified management for virtual machines and files services, Nutanix Files can save the existing NAS customer a big chunk of money.

Nutanix files supports SMB 2 & 3 and NFS 3 & 4, as well with full AD security and authentication for kerberos version 5 as well as RFC 2307.

Some Nutanix customers like it so much they ditched all of their brand name NAS filers and replaced them all with Nutanix nodes running Nutanix File Services.

Some of these customers are not running small instances of file services either.

There is now even a specialized Nutanix NAS node called the NX5000 that is specifically designed for NAS if you desire a more zoned in offering for central or ROBO sites.

You can run the file services on the usual nodes on offer from all of the hardware vendors as well that are on the Nutanix HCL.

I often get asked how it scales with the customers being surprised to hear it in fact scales very well and is a fully distributed scale-out file storage solution fit for all your file storage needs and wants.

Now do not get me wrong, I am not saying that Nutanix files is better than what the leading NAS vendors offer but it could offer you NAS file services that meet the needs of your organization just fine.

If you do not need a Bugatti Veyron, do not buy one. VW Beetles get from A to B just swell!!

Nutanix Files is included in every normal cluster and up to a certain amount is free with the normal purchase of Nutanix clusters, 1 TB I think is non-chargeable per existing customer cluster and after that there is a license that is a capacity based schema.

Customers of existing or older clusters may have up to 5TB of Nutanix files capacity as well, even if they upgrade to the latest AOS by the way.

I do have some customers that are just running Nutanix Files and nothing else and it can be configured and priced that way at very attractive price levels if this is the only use case.

Best of all, the performance is up to how much the user is willing to pay to get it.

You can configure Nutanix nodes with all Flash or all spinning disk or a hybrid combo of both SSD and spinning disk if you so desire.

You can even tier using different node types if you want, if it's a big NAS environment and you really want to do that for your files action.

With Nutanix you got choices.

You also get cloud integration, advanced file analytics, user and share quota capability, self service file recovery, cool backup capability with REST APIs, inline AV scanning, File Server cloning, full non-disruptive DR testing, erasure coding and compression.

Remember you need to have a minimum of three file server VMs in each Nutanix files cluster, each VM using 4 vCPUs and 12GB of RAM.

What you don't get yet by the way is dedupe (for files). Not yet. Its on the roadmap and heading this way though.

Then there is the case of Nutanix Files Analytics. Boy is that a sweet treat!

A Nutanix Files cluster consists of two parts: File server VMs to handle the client connections, and the highly scalable and available Nutanix Volumes for storing the data.

Nutanix Volumes ensures that the Files cluster has access to the entire storage pool on the Nutanix cluster, and can grow on-demand.

There is a minimum of three file server VMs in each Files cluster, with each VM using as little as 4vCPUs and 12GB of RAM.

The Files architecture allows seamless performance scaling by either adding more file server VMs to the Files cluster, or by providing more CPU and RAM resources to each VM.

Multiple File clusters can be created on a Nutanix cluster for those environments that need complete namespace isolation between departments or customers.

Nutanix Files Analytics provides data and statistics on the operations and contents of a file server.

Once deployed, Files adds an Analytics VM to the Files cluster.

A single Analytics VM supports all file servers in the cluster; however, you must enable Analytics separately for each file server.

Data on the Analytics VM is protected, and is kept in a separate volume group.

Once you deploy Analytics, a new File Analytics link appears on the file server actions bar.

You can access Analytics through this link for any file server where it is enabled.

The Analytics web console consists of three tabs that include the following options:

Dashboard: View widgets that present data on file trends, distribution, and operations.

Audit Trails : Search for a specific user or file and view various widgets to audit activity.

Anomalies: Create anomaly policies and view anomaly trends.

Activity Logging

File Analytics captures all file activity for registered file server instances. This logging helps to form an audit trail so administrators can review what operations have occurred against specific data and by specific users.

Intelligent Insights Logged events are analyzed to provide an initial dashboard of information which shows:

  • Capacity trend: what’s being consumed and how it’s changed over time.

  • Data age: which calculates the last time a file was accessed and shows the percent of data at varying age ranges.

  • Anomaly alerts: All file operations which exceed a given anomaly threshold, like the deletion of a large number of files, are shown in this area of the dashboard.

  • Permission Denials: the number of permission denial events for specific users over the selected time range.

  • File distribution by size, which shows the number of files within a given size range.

  • File distribution by type, details the amount of storage consumption represented by file type categories, such as log files, image files, video files, etc.

  • The top 5 active users based on total operations over the selected time period.

  • The top 5 accessed files based on total operations over the selected time period.

  • File Operations: details the most frequent types of operations, like file create, read, write, etc over a selected time period, including the trend over that time.

File-Based Auditing Overview

Selecting the “Files” radio button lets an administrator search for audit details on individual files.

Initial results show some basic file information while clicking “View Audit” gives more visibility into the history of the file, including users that read, modified or otherwise touched it.

The file server VMs can be scaled out as needed in lock step with the applications, files, and number of users. Files supports both SMB and NFS protocols.

Nutanix Files Pricing Models

1. Dedicated Clusters - Dedicated clusters are exactly what they sound like — minimum compute resources and a lot of storage.

The compute resources should be enough to run the CVMs, FSVMs and, of course, the Analytics VMs.

No other VMs are allowed to run on this Nutanix Files dedicated cluster.

This is important to note if you’re looking to use this for ROBO sites where small VMs may also need to run but that is better suited to the mixed option anyway.

In a dedicated cluster, you’ll be running Files Pro licensing edition, which includes Analytics at no additional cost. You still might need to consider additional add-on licensing options outside of capacity that can affect price, such as encryption (SW or HW) and multi-site DR (many to many).

2. Mixed Mode deployments - Nutanix’s “mixed mode” deployment model also employs capacity-based licensing. The level of your AOS licensing will dictate some of your feature functionality (Starter, Pro, Ultimate). Analytics is currently an add-on license in this model.

The NAS sales guys at NASzilla Inc. can put it in Ray Bradbury terms, for them something wicked this way comes!!

One of the joys of being with an org bringing disruptive game changing technology to the Data Center is that you are like a Freddy Kruger nightmare threat to these incumbents we are competing with if they don't keep dancing on their toes.

Why, its like Halloween 365 days a year!! Hella awesome!!

One final thing about Nutanix Files is that you can also use the awesome Nutanix namespace for complete file server isolation between customers of departments and you can scale out as desired in lock step with your applications.

The Nutanix dashboards and one click management is to die for folks, get yourself some slick NAS capability today!!

FYI, if you want dedicated Nutanix Files and are wondering where to run the other VM's, fret not!! Merely drop a Normal VM use cluster in the same domain, next to it and use Prism Central to manage them both from the same pane of glass.

You will just have 3 nodes doing VM's and another three nodes doing Nutanix Files (Example).

A final-final comment on Nutanix Files is that if you use Nutanix files and are not happy with a feature other NAS filers have, let your Nutanix SE and AE know and we will let our code army know this is what customers want and start working on it.

Nutanix is different to most other companies in Technology, we actually want to give you stuff you want to use and will enhance it to meet the desire and demand and we want to have the best products with the best features - a Win-Win situation for everyone!

Nutanix really is the REAL thing!!

Be Hella Hungry, Hella Humble and Hella Honest, always!!

I'm staying hella scary to the competition as long as I can.......