Amazon offers network file storage in the cloud

Watch out NetApp! Amazon is coming after the NAS storage market

Andy Jassy, head of AWS, at the Amazon Web Services Summit in San Francisco

Andy Jassy, head of AWS, at the Amazon Web Services Summit in San Francisco

Amazon Web Services continues to chip away at the enterprise storage market, with plans for a new service designed to be a nimbler alternative to network attached storage (NAS) appliances.

The Amazon Elastic File System (EFS) will provide a shared, low-latency file system for organizations or project teams that need to share large files and access them quickly, such as a video production company.

"The file system is the missing element in the cloud today," Amazon Web Services head Andy Jassy said Wednesday at the AWS Summit in San Francisco. The service is not yet available for full commercial use, though a preview will be available shortly.

EFS is "a managed service to easily set up and scale your file storage," Jassy said. AWS expects it to appeal particularly to organizations running content repositories, Web server farms and shared directories.

AWS already offers a number of storage options for enterprises. The Simple Storage Service (S3) holds data formatted into objects so they can be directly accessed by programs. The Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) offers disk-volume storage designed to be the cloud equivalent of large-scale SAN (Storage Area Network) systems offered by the likes of EMC. Amazon Glacier offers inexpensive storage for archiving data, accessible by way of APIs (application programming interfaces).

EFS differs in that allows users direct access to files in a similar way that they can access them on a computer's hard drive, according to AWS. It also allows multiple parties to access the same set of files at the same time. An EBS volume, by comparison, can be accessed only by a single instance of an Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2) compute engine.

EFS uses the industry standard Network File System (NFS) version 4, which is used by most Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems manufactured by NetApp and others. Typically, NAS devices will be set up within an enterprise to offer shared directories over a local area network (LAN).

For EFS, data will be stored on flash disks to ensure maximum responsiveness, and data will be copied across multiple geographically dispersed Amazon data centers for redundancy and disaster recovery purposes.

EFS pricing is based on the amount of data stored with the service. At $0.30 per GB per month, the service is considerably more expensive than AWS Glacier, which is only $0.01 per GB per month. But users can get much quicker access to the data, and it can be accessed by multiple parties.

Also, many enterprise applications can't work with object storage, though they can use NFS-based storage, noted Henry Baltazar, a Forrester senior analyst.

As with other cloud services, the monthly billing can be attractive because there are no up-front costs of buying hardware, and users pay only for the storage they use.

Part of the reason AWS is pursuing the storage market so enthusiastically could be that it provides a way for the company to sell related services such as those for analytics, since the customer's data is already parked there. "The storage vendors have had these huge margins for awhile, the cloud vendors can come in, provide value and make money on other services," Baltazar said

EFS was one of several new and updated services Jassy introduced during his AWS keynote. The company also launched a new machine learning service, and it announced the general availability of its AWS Lambda, a service for running highly synchronous applications.

Amazon also announced the general availability of its EC2 container service, for running and managing Docker virtual containers.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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