Serve NFS and CIFS from your VMware Virtual SAN

I have seen the question of being able to serve NFS and CIFS storage from VMware Virtual SAN comes up often lately, as customers want to be able to serve files storage to their VMs for different reasons, below is couples of reasons I have heard often:

  • My applications requires file sharing via NFS or CIFS/SMB protocol.
  • I want to store my users documents in a centralized location in the data-center while still controlling access using AD permissions.

There is more reasons behind this, the idea is that this is being requested by different corporate for a reason or another. Unfortunately, the canned answer for this question is that VMware Virtual SAN does not offer this out of the box. While that statement is 100% accurate, I don’t think the answer should stop there, as there is many ways around this, that allows you to consume VMware Virtual SAN Storage as a file level storage using NFS and CIFS/SMB protocols. Let’s discover few of these.

Three different ways to Serve NFS and CIFS/SMB using VMware Virtual SAN:

1. Using NFS on a Linux Box and CIFS on a Windows Box  

While this is the least elegant way of the three, it is the most obvious route for many as they own these operating system licenses and they can just create a VM that is running on top of Virtual SAN and then mount enough storage from Virtual SAN to the VM which in turn you will configure the VM OS to serve CIFS or NFS. The reason I say this is the least elegant way of doing it as unlike the other two methods suggested here, you will be responsible for setting up everything from scratch and the management tools you will get is not as embeded in the vSphere platform and not as thorough as the other two tools suggested here. The advantages of this method, you might not have to end up buying anything as you most probably already own few extra OS licenses that you can use for this.

2.  NexentaConnect for VMware Virtual SAN

NexentaConnect for VMware Virtual SAN is deployed as a Virtual Appliance that lives on VMware Virtual SAN and provide a CIFS and NFS with a very elegant ways to manage it. Below is what great about it:

• Quick and easy to install Virtual Appliance
• Managed through VMware vSphere Web Client interface.

Nexenta Connect for VMware Virtual SAN
• Capacity saving using inline compression and de-duplication
• Performance and health monitoring included out of the box
• Folder and volume level snapshots, replication and backup capabilities for DR scenarios
• Maintains data integrity during various stressful tasks, network/disk/host recovery

3. SoftNAS Cloud File Gateway 

SoftNas Cloud File Gateway is another nice way to server NFS/CIFS from your VMware Virtual SAN. Below is what SoftNas Cloud File Gateway offers you when combined with VMware Virtual SAN.

  • Easy to install Virtual Appliance
  • Nice management interface, but not as integrated with the vSphere Web Client as NexentaConnect

SoftNAS CIFS & NFS for VMware Virtual SAN

  • Extends VSAN storage with NFS, CIFS/AD, iSCSI and Amazon S3 cloud storage
  • Full NAS filer feature set with no specialized hardware requirement
  • Multi-tenant capable CIFS/NFS for service providers

3. StarWind Virtual SAN

While I have used StarWind Virtual SAN as my home lab main storage(mainly iSCSI) for the longest time due to its easy of use and reliability, it can actually front your VMware Virtual SAN and server NFS/SMB. Below is what I like about the option of using StarWind Virtual SAN

StarWind Virtual SAN Simple Interface

  • Very easy to install and manage
  • Extends VSAN storage with NFS, CIFS, and iSCSI
  • Very reasonably priced and a free version is available for smaller environment.
  • It has no specialized hardware requirements and minimal over all requirements that I was able to satisfy by my poor man white boxes home lab.
  • Simple clean management interface, that is easy to understand and use.

My point is while VMware Virtual SAN does not offer CIFS or NFS out of the box today, it does not limit you from being able to achieve that and there is quite few elegant way to fill that gap.

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