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Cutting Through the Confusion of File Systems: What Organizations Need to Know Before They Buy


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Linear scaling with legacy storage appliances is no longer an option. The burden that traditional architecture feels from today’s tsunami of data is surpassed only by the cost required to meet current and future demands. Aside from the huge expense, this method of increasing storage capacity would take too long. Even adding multiple servers could not accommodate storage demands. Vertical storage architecture contains bottlenecks that slow performance to an unacceptable level.

Software-defined storage (SDS) scales horizontally instead, making it a popular option.

Because it decouples the programming that controls storage-related tasks from the physical storage hardware, SDS dramatically reduces costs associated with hardware. Fewer, less-expensive servers can be used to improve both capacity and performance. Administration is simplified and made more flexible and efficient. SDS enables users to allocate and share storage assets across all workloads.

Enterprises in need of a modern solution have welcomed SDS, and statistics lend credence to this trend. Gartner recently reported that by 2020, anywhere from 70-to-80% of unstructured data will be stored and managed on lower-cost hardware supported by software-defined storage.

The Critical Need for File Systems

Around 80%of the market is comprised of storage solutions that offer file systems. That’s because 80% of data is unstructured. While it is widely understood that unstructured data is best managed with a file system, for some reason, many SDS offerings focus solely on block or object store. Few focus on file systems or do them well. Without a file system overlaying this data, it becomes very difficult to manage that data.

Each of the three types of storage plays a particular role:

  • The basic foundation of storage, block is used for storing virtual machines or databases, but you need files as well to deal with all the unstructured data.
  • The talked-up newcomer is object storage. Object is used for machine-to-machine/IoT transactions and other applications that require extreme scalability, but it isn’t that much better than block when it comes to managing data.
  • And then there are the less exciting file systems. This isn’t as hyped as object, but it is the best at handling unstructured data.

Buyer beware when it comes to file systems, however. Because software-defined storage providers know that file systems are important, some claim to provide file system with their offerings. However, these file systems are usually based on Samba and exclude some features most Windows users are used to.

Many in need of a file system have turned to Samba, the freeware module that enables support for SMB and allows end users to access and use files on the company’s intranet or network. However, providing file services through Samba, which is open source, often means going without needed features.

Find the Features You Need

So, then, it’s not enough just to have a file system; the importance of features can’t be underestimated. File-related features are also necessary to deal with unstructured data. These include:

  • Quota: This feature helps you monitor the amount of storage being used. You can set a soft limit quota that will warn you when part of a file system is close to reaching its storage limit but still allow data to be saved. If you set up a hard limit quota, after the quota is reached, no new data can be saved.
  • Snapshot: A read-only copy of the contents of a file system or independent file set is taken at a single point in time with this feature. When a snapshot of an independent file set is taken, all files and nested dependent file sets will be included in the snapshot.
  • Tiering: Using this feature, you can use a policy to designate where a specific file is to be placed and if and when the file will be migrated between file system pools. You can define both file placement and migration policies. By using a policy, you create a filter that designates a specific file type to a particular tier. Tiered storage is more efficient and boosts performance.
  • Retention: You can automatically create a single folder or a hierarchy of folders on file servers, to be deleted according to assigned policies.

Before You Make That Leap

Organizations in need of a modern storage solution are encountering a contradiction. You want an SDS solution to scale quickly at a lower cost, and you need a file system to manage unstructured data – which comprises 80 percent of your pool. Yet the majority of SDS solutions come with a substandard file system. You could turn to open source solutions, but their feature sets are inadequate for your needs. What you want is a solution that can handle all storage types: block, object and file system. Thoroughly vet solutions to make sure that you will get all the elements needed for your storage needs, both today and tomorrow.


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