High-Performance NAS

11.10.2016

Network Attached Storage (NAS) allows enterprises of any size to consolidate distributed file servers into a smaller number of specialized storage systems. These systems provide access to files through several standard access protocols, such as NFS, SMB, FTP, etc. and have a centralized management console. Just a few years ago, NAS presented certain limitations: insufficient bandwidth, high latencies in data transfer channels, lower reliability and scalability. As a result, SAN networks were the top choice for business-critical tasks. These days, the new generation of high-performance NAS systems allows the user to surpass the previous restrictions and bring the features and benefits of SAN networks to file access.

How is high-performance NAS different from an ‘ordinary’ NAS?

As it happens, there is no set-in-stone definition of high-performance NAS.

In terms of hardware configuration, the high-performance NAS will provide more Ethernet ports and higher throughput for these ports. For example, a standard NAS offers one or two 1Gbit Ethernet ports, whereas its high-performance sibling supports 10Gbit, 40Gbit and even 100Gbit Ethernet. High connection speed with channel aggregation opportunities allows the user to increase reliability and fault-tolerance of NAS, therefore, processing much more requests and employing NAS for business-critical workflows.

From the administration viewpoint, the high-performance NAS may include several management servers for parallelizing workloads from a multitude of clients. It also delivers optimization for versatile IOps and data types, e.g. a large number of operations, big volumes of sequential data, or operations with NFS.

Thus, we get hold of a system that can process a multitude of concurrent file operations while maintaining high fault-tolerance.

Is it difficult to implement high performance NAS?

It all depends on company’s IT infrastructure and access interfaces to be used – 10Gbit, 40Gbit or 100Gbit. Many companies have switches with 10Gbit interfaces. If no scaling is planned, all we have to do is connect the NAS and adjust it for optimal performance. In case the customer considers a transition to 40Gbit or 100Gbit, upgrading switches and cable infrastructure as well as network adapter replacement will be required.

Bear in mind that the high-performance NAS can fully utilize the network bandwidth and thwart into normal functioning of other services and the network. That’s why it’s crucial to not only use new high-throughput switches but also foresee network architecture changes. This way, you’ll be able to apply all necessary settings to all switches for seamless integration of the high performance solution into the existing infrastructure.

Where are high-performance NAS systems deployed?

There are two application areas where high-performance NAS is used more often than not. It’s video processing from several clients and integration of data storage systems into infrastructures through the NFS protocol. In both cases, throughput is key, that’s why 10Gbit and 40Gbit interfaces are growing in demand used.

It works similarly for IO operations. For instance, video processing requires sequential reading of huge data volumes, whereas virtualization demands high-speed random access to data. For that reason, the administrator needs to pull different NAS settings for achieving optimal performance in each case.

Technology evolves

Just a few years ago, the IT community considered enhancements of NAS functionality to reach the level of SAN solutions. Now, most NAS systems offer even more enterprise-level features – deduplication, replication, snapshots, workload balancing, etc. At this point, NAS vendors support more efficient interfaces (40Gbit and 100Gbit), and implement SMB 3.0 and SMB over RDMA, which greatly increases random read/write performance. Let’s stay tuned for the latest developments and see what the future holds!