Nutanix has been primarily used to host virtual machines in the format of VMDKs and vdisks, but now it is also possible to natively store unstructured files such as user-generated content such as Office documents, and Windows user profiles and settings.
Nutanix AOS 4.6 introduces a new technology that build File Services as an integral and native component of the Nutanix Distributed Storage Fabric, removing the need for File server VMs, unmanaged virtual appliances or external NAS arrays, such as Netapp, EMC Centera, Isilon and VNX. (Read the press-release here)
AFS (Acropolis File Services) is a scale-out native highly resilient embedded service that provides SMB 2.1 (aka CIFS) single namespace entry-point per group of clustered file servers that can be easily instantiated with few clicks via the PRISM user interface.
Providing single namespace Nutanix avoids the problem of fractured namespaces deployments in traditional NAS infrastructures where every single storage volume is a unique namespace. This namespace is capable of scaling to billions of files, while at the same time enabling simple management via a single volume and user interface.
(fractured namespaces deployments)
(Logical separation w/ ACL, ABE and AD Authentication and no fractured namespace)
The scale-out structure of AFS enable administrators to easily scale capacity on-demand. If you need more capacity, then the file server cluster will just use more capacity from the cluster (assuming the cluster has additional physical resources). However, if additional performance is necessary, such as IOPs or Throughput because of the number of users or applications accessing the file system, then the file server automatically spins up more instances to handle that performance. Note: In NOS 4.6 the auto-scale capability is disabled.
As part of the 4.6 Tech Preview release AFS provides:
- 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)
- ACLs and AD Authentication
- No theoretical limit on number of nodes in the AFS cluster
- Billions of files (by design) (1st release qualification limits in the 10s of millions)
- 10s of thousands of user sessions (1st release qualification limits in the 1000s of users)
Capacity & Performance Expansion:
- Automatically expands capacity and performance, based on defined thresholds
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
- 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
- First release support for SMB 2.1, the standard for home dirs., user profiles, dept. shares (SMB 3.0 & NFS in future releases)
(Embedded scale-out File Service cluster and SVM distribution)
(Native scalability for performance and capacity)
Capacity Oriented Storage Costs
Nutanix provide natively all necessary enterprise data services to bring storage costs ($/GB) on pair with all on premise enterprise storage solutions and also cloud.
When coupled with Erasure Coding (EC-X) and Nutanix storage-only nodes (NX-6035c) the solution delivers cheap and deep storage at cloud storage pricing – well below $1/GB of usable capacity. On top of that you may add all the data avoidance and data reduction techniques inline and post-process compression and de-duplication, making the price point even more attractive.
The main difference between the NX-6035c and other Nutanix nodes is that it is not a member of the hypervisor cluster, has a very low CPU profile and as a result does not run virtual machines, but it is a fully functional member of the Nutanix cluster offering lots of storage capacity.
At @30 cents per GB per month, AWS Elastic File Storage (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
Anyone that says that it is not possible to get to sub-dollar per GB with HCI is as high as a kite, and Nutanix is happy to provide a TCO/ROI analysis to demonstrate how Nutanix can provide cheap and deep storage for high-capacity workloads and extreme performance to support the most business critical and demanding workloads in the world, both at the same time.
Availability and Data Protection
As with all other Nutanix Acropolis workloads AFS is provided with full native cluster resiliency and data protection options. The File Server cluster starts with a minimum of the SVMs and can scale from there to many servers. This architecture is strongly driven by the needs of Disaster Recovery and HA, and more particularly, the metadata needs of DR. The solution has built-in high availability and with disaster recovery capabilities.
Watch the below video where I explain how to simple it is to instantiate a new file services cluster.
[Watch in full-screen 1080p] [Recorded with pre-GA code; things may have changed a little bit].
Watch the official Nutanix Video for Acropolis File Services in High-res.
File Servers are a reality for all types of business and storage use cases, but this solution is specially interesting for VDI uses cases given that user profiles and home directories can now stay co-located with the users VMs on the Nutanix cluster, removing complexity and improving the TCO for the entire solution.
Yet, in the VDI use case storage-only nodes are not a requirement since administrators can use the spare-cluster capacity to host user profiles and data, making the overall TCO and ROI even more interesting.
Native support for Citrix Profile Manager and Personal vDisks
AFS provides native support for Citrix Profile Manager and Personal vDisks without the requirement for external NAS or additional File Server VMs with in-guest backup agents, yet making content available to multiple sites simultaneously.
Citrix Profile Manager ensures that the user’s personal settings are applied to the user’s virtual desktop and applications, regardless of the location and end point device. It auto-consolidates and optimizes user profiles to minimize management and storage requirements and requires minimal administration, support and infrastructure, while providing users with improved logon and logout.
With AFS it is possible to store Base image vDisks, Application data, Profile/Folders and User Data ensuring that content is always available and de-duplicated. Furthermore, it is possible to encrypt (FIPS 140-2 Level-2) and replicate data to multiple datacenters ensuring a consistent disaster recovery plan. I can’t stress enough the importance of encryption and STIGs for federal, finance and healthcare organizations. btw – if you are in healthcare don’t miss out in reading Transforming Healthcare IT – Why Nutanix for Healthcare?
With Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp being fully supported (here) on Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV) administrators now need only a single all-in-one solution to host entire virtual desktop and application farms without the extra costs of VMware vSphere and external NAS infrastructures.
The partnership between Citrix and Nutanix is strong and all Citrix products are validated and supported on Nutanix AHV – and my team is working with Citrix initiate the validation for ShareFile on Nutanix AFS.
Native support for VMware Horizon View UEM
VMware User Environment Manager (UEM) can also be used to manage Windows and application settings across virtual desktops and operating systems. UEM allows application settings to dynamically roam between virtual desktops and RSDH published applications.
The UEM profile-archive share is used to store personal settings for all users. The personal user settings are read from this share at login or at application start, and are written back at application exit or at logout.
AFS provides native support for UEM without requirement for external NAS solutions or additional File Server VMs, yet making the content available to multiple sites for DR purposes.
I really! recommend you to re-read my article VMware View Disaster Recovery Scenarios & Options (I will soon update to include AFS). Times have changed and now AFS can provide all the necessary file services capabilities for a successful VDI DR with Linked Clones or Full Clones – Persistent or Non-Persistent. Hopefully we will soon see a full-blown reference architecture for Horizon View with UEM and AFS. Nutanix is the only HCI solution on the market today providing native file services.
Note – AFS tech-preview release supports AHV only, therefore it is necessary to create a secondary cluster for Horizon View UEM file shares. Many customers will prefer to maintain a segmentation between the Horizon View deployment and UEM File Shares, eliminating unnecessary hypervisor and external NAS costs. Please note that AFS GA will support native ESXi deployments, allowing entire Horizon View deployments to be hosted in a single ESXi cluster.
Native support for LiquidwareLabs
The same benefits are applicable to Liquidware Labs ProfileUnity where user profile files are stored where your user stores their documents. This location can be a AFS shared folder and will be highly available. When ProfileUnity uses AFS for its user profile files ProfileUnity becomes as scalable and resilient as Nutanix is.
It’s also worth mentioning that if your VDI deployment doesn’t use any of the 3rd party profile management tools mentioned here you will also be able to leverage AFS for native Microsoft Windows Roaming Profiles and Folder redirection.
Nutanix AFS provides a true replacement for external NAS and File Server VMs with simple performance and capacity scalability managed through a single pane of glass. AFS is a perfect fit for VDI deployments, reducing licensing costs and providing ‘must have’ DR capabilities.
Nutanix innovation pace and SDLC release cycle outpaces all other HCI vendors on the market and we have some amazing new features cooking that will be ready for announced during our .NEXT conference in June. Make sure you check out and subscribe to the conference here.
- Read the full Nutanix AOS 4.6 launch overview here.
- You can also read more about AFS in the Nutanix Bible.
This article was first published by Andre Leibovici (@andreleibovici) at myvirtualcloud.net.