We have talked a lot recently about cloud services, and we’ve spent a lot of time comparing one infrastructure as a service provider to another.  While that can be helpful in terms of decision making, it doesn’t allow us to look at any one service in particular detail.

In this article, I would like to take a moment to look at one of the newer services offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS).  That of Amazon FSx.

You can split AWS cloud services into two main groups.  Those that are designed to do something innovative, something that feels more akin to Science fiction than day to day business operations. Things like Amazon Rekognition – a service that recognizes specific people in video in real-time. It allows you to track them and find the same person in other videos.  It even allows you to identify the emotions that person is feeling.

But there is a second category of service.  Those that are designed to take the things you already do and make them easier. Things like Amazon WorkSpaces, a service that allows you to create a cloud-based desktop you can access from anywhere in the world.

Amazon FSx falls squarely into this second group.


The Bigger Picture

Amazon FSx is designed to solve a very specific set of problems that businesses face during their day to day operations.  But to fully understand exactly how it does that, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Before I go on I should also state that while Amazon FSx is available for both Windows and Lustre we are only going to look at Amazon FSx for Windows File Server in this particular article.

There are more Windows public cloud IaaS instances on AWS than on all the other cloud offerings put together. And there are more stand-alone PCs running Windows operating software than all the other OS options combined.

What this shows us pretty conclusively is that despite the cloud market changing the face of business in a vast number of ways, Windows as an operating system is not going anywhere.


The Obligatory Analogy

I am bound by tradition to insert an analogy here, so I’m going to take the one I used HERE and expand on it a little. Imagine if you will that instead of 1s and 0s stored in a digital format that your files are comprised of pieces of paper.

Traditionally you would have stored these pieces of paper in box files on shelves designed for exactly that purpose. These shelves would line a room specially designed for exactly that.

However, migrating to the cloud allows you to store those pieces of paper in a remote location.  There is much more space, you don’t have to look after the building, and if you need more space the people whom you rent it from simply add more for you.

The problem with this is that the storage warehouse you are using didn’t come with proper box files and shelving systems to allow you to organise your paperwork.  You had to get a specialist to build that for you, and that was a specialist skill.

Amazon FSx is not just a warehouse where you can store those files, but it is a warehouse that comes with exactly the shelves and box files you need.  You can have as many shelves, or as few as you need.

Now that’s out of the way let’s look at exactly how that applies to Amazon FSx and the problems it solves.

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The Problem

Despite the fact that the majority of workloads in the cloud are Linux based the lack of a dedicated Windows native file storage system was a big problem.

Before the launch of Amazon FSx, AWS users (and as the clear Cloud IaaS leader year after year according to Gartner that is a lot of users) had a few choices to make if they wanted to be able to access Windows File Server storage.

The first was not to make the migration to the cloud at all.  To carry on maintaining the on-premise server that lives in the office and use that for file storage.  However, the cloud market is mature enough for most people to be aware that this is far from optimal.  It comes with all the downsides that we are all very familiar with now.  Upfront purchase cost, fixed capacity, maintenance and upkeep, limited lifespan, lack of integration with non-Windows cloud-based workloads, disaster recovery, lack of scalability and so on.

Only a business with no eye to the future would look to implement on-premise file storage from scratch, and so that left only one other option.

That is to try and build your own Windows-based file storage system on EC2 and S3.  While this is perfectly possible, it is not a simple process, and requires someone skilled and experienced with how AWS infrastructure works.

It also doesn’t remove the need to manage the server software, set up the file system, manage licenses, back-ups, and put in place an effective security policy.


The Details

A far simpler option is to use a fully managed, dedicated service that provisions Windows native file storage solutions. A service accessed in exactly the same way as all the other AWS services a business may use in their day to day life.

A file storage solution that takes no more than 5 minutes to set up. (I tried it to see if this is true, it is).

A file service solution that has all the benefits of AWS, and all the familiarity of your own PC.

Amazon FSx for Windows File Server provides NTFS file systems that can be accessed by thousands of instances through the use of the Server Message Block protocol. It integrates with Active Directory and supports Access control Lists. It uses DFS Namespaces and replication and like everything else AWS offers.  It just works.

All of this is a complex way of saying it uses all the native processes you would need it to use in order to integrate with your existing business systems completely seamlessly.  Assuming of course that your existing business systems run on Microsoft Windows.

Back-ups are stored in Amazon S3, which is not only one of the most mature cloud services out there, but it is one of the most reliable. Your data is replicated within the availability zone you select, and as you would expect all the hardware is continually monitored for failure.

Speaking of hardware it is worth mentioning that all Amazon FSx storage is currently on SSD drives, and can support transfer rates of up to 2 Gigabytes per second. The chances are that whatever on-premise system you are using isn’t that fast.  Especially if you have offices in more than one location accessing the same file server.

The Conclusion

It is fair to say that AWS essentially invented the cloud as we know it today. The introduction of Amazon FSx shows that whatever platforms your business runs on AWS is still a great choice.

If you are currently running a Windows file system, either on-premise or migrated to a cloud architecture in S3 and EC2 then why not give us a call? An Amazon FSx for Windows File Server could make life simpler, and ultimately help make your business more profitable.

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