File servers: Windows, Linux, SAN, or cloud?

File servers are the bane of the network administrator as the overall size gets bigger and old files are never accessed over time. IT pro Rick Vanover poses the question on what to do for file servers and presents a few options.

Way, way back in the day my file sever of choice was Novell NetWare. It was a good network operating system that had a robust file system with commands that Windows still can’t match. But, as you know, NetWare has moved on from mainstream roles and Windows Servers are the most popular file server platform. A lot of administrators go the Linux route for file servers, and some even use storage processors or the cloud for housing general purpose data. With all of these options, there are positives and negatives to each. Here are some thoughts for each platform -- both for and against as a file server:

Windows Server: Windows is an "okay" file server, with its ease of integration into Active Directory being a big plus for the everyday administrator. The cost of a Windows license plus the client licenses can add up over time, however. Linux Server: Interoperability with Windows systems is important, and this is easier for Linux today with options beyond the simple Samba server. Packages can be added on the server to make it more seamless, and of course work fine for other Linux systems. The cost of software acquisition would be lower than the Windows alternative. SAN: The SAN can take on file server duty as well. This can be basic roles of simply running a CIFS engine on the storage processor, commonly done on NetApp storage systems. You can take that further and manage a content lifecycle with a robust product like the Hitachi Content Platform. These solutions may cost more in terms of the hardware involved, but additional features such as replication and lifecycle management can aid in getting a handle on content sprawl. Cloud: Utilizing cloud storage as a file server is available in a number of means today. Today, solutions such as the Nirvanix CloudNAS or Nasuni Filer can present a file server on the local network with unlimited backend storage on a public cloud. These solutions maintain a cache of what is accessed most frequently, and that is a good idea as file servers are notorious for holding tons of data that no one ever accesses. Costs for cloud storage can add up and there are security and encryption questions that make this jump take a little more planning.

The fact is that file servers are going to be here to stay, whether we like them or not. The question is what is the best way to provide file server content with today’s infrastructure options? Is a Windows file server still the way to go? Is a public cloud the best way up? Share your comments below.