Using the Right Storage Protocol for the Right Use Case

By Michael Letschin, Field CTO

IT professionals have no shortage of storage protocols to choose from, such as NFS, SMB, Fibre Channel (FC), iSCSI and Object. “Experts” are writing books about which protocol is best, usually taking the side of a vendor with a particular axe to grind. The truth is they each have their sweet spot. The key is to make sure that your storage solution is flexible enough to support all your data center’s needs at the same time.


In most data centers the virtual infrastructure supports the majority of the business critical applications and workloads. The virtualization platform of choice, at least for now, is VMware. While FC is still very prevalent in VMware environments and VVOLs makes FC more flexible, we believe NFS is the ideal choice for most VMware environments. Let’s face it, VMs are essentially files and what better way to store files than a protocol designed specifically for file based data like NFS. The advantages of NFS are well documented but the key is that NFS provides a much easier mapping of a VM to its datastore. You can now make decisions, like what tier of storage to place a VM on, at a discrete VM level.

Mission Critical Applications

Many environments, for a variety of reasons, choose not to virtualize certain mission critical applications. They may already be clustered or there may be too many performance concerns. For these situations, many data centers will leverage a block protocol like FC or iSCSI. If the high performance storage requires low latency access, then FC is ideal, but iSCSI can hold its own for other applications where latency is not critical. Again, your storage software should give you the flexibility to choose any or all of these protocols as it makes sense.


Managing file data, or unstructured data for those who want to sound cool, is one of the biggest challenges facing IT. And just like applications not all this data is equal. Most IT professionals immediately think of user data here, created by office productivity applications. It needs to be put on moderately performing storage but not the fastest storage since most users today are connecting via WiFi or even broadband. You need to keep it a long time because users never want you to delete their files. For this data, assuming most users are running Windows, SMB is the protocol of choice.

Another type of file data comes from machines like cameras, recording devices and sensors. It can range in size from trillions of very small sensor files to a few very large files from video cameras. The industry will tell you that object storage is the way to go here, and it very well may be. But we encourage you to use NFS first. It takes a lot of data to exceed the maximum potential of a modern NFS server. Again, the storage solution should not force you to make a choice.

At the other end of the file spectrum is high performance data that you need to access rapidly or a process that needs to write data quickly. For this, NFS is ideal. It is a high performance file system and with the appropriate use of flash delivers the performance that these use cases demand.


If you noticed, NFS is most appropriate in the majority of the use cases but not all of them. We think the storage solution you use should not also force you into a specific protocol. You should choose the one that makes sense for your specific use cases. And that’s why we built NexentaStor.


Nexenta is the global leader is Software-defined Storage.

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