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    NFS FAQ – Test Your Knowledge

    Posted by Chad Hintz

    How would you rate your NFS knowledge? That’s the question Alex McDonald and I asked our audience at our recent live Webcast, “What is NFS?.” From those who considered themselves to be an NFS expert to those who thought NFS was a bit of a mystery, we got some great questions. As promised, here are answers to all of them. If you think of additional questions, please comment in this blog and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

    Q. I hope you touch on dNFS in your presentation

    A. Oracle Direct NFS (dNFS) is a client built into Oracle’s database system that Oracle claims provides faster and more scalable access to NFS servers. As it’s proprietary, SNIA doesn’t really have much to say about it; we’re vendor neutral, and it’s not the only proprietary NFS client out there. But you can read more here if you wish at the Oracle site.

    Q. Will you be talking about pNFS?

    A. We did a series of NFS presentations that covered pNFS a little while ago. You can find them here.

    Q. What is the difference between SMB vs. CIFS? And what is SAMBA? Is it a type of SMB protocol?

    A. It’s best explained in this tutorial that covers SMB. Samba is the open source implementation of SMB for Linux. Information on Samba can be found here.

    Q. Will you touch upon how file permissions are maintained when users come from an SMB or a non-SMB connection? What are best practices?

    A. Although NFS and SMB share some common terminology for security (ACLs or Access Control Lists) the implementations are different. The ACL security model in SMB is richer than the NFS file security model. I touched on some of those differences during the Webcast, but my advice is; don’t expect the two security domains of SMB (or Samba, the open source equivalent) and NFS to perfectly overlap. Where possible, try to avoid the requirement, but if you do need the ability to file share, talk to your NFS server supplier. A Google search on “nfs smb mixed mode” will also bring up tips and best practices.

    Q. How do you tune and benchmark NFSv4?

    A. That’s a topic in its own right! This paper gives an overview and how-to of benchmarking NFS; but it doesn’t explain what you might do to tune the system. It’s too difficult to give generic advice here, except to say that vendors should be relied on to provide their experience. If it’s a commercial solution, they will have lots of experience based on a wide variety of use cases and workloads.

    Q. Is using NFS to provide block storage a common use case?

    A. No, it’s still fairly unusual. The most common use case is for files in directories. Object and block support are relatively new, and there are more NFS “personalities” being developed, see our ESF Webcast on NFSv4.2 for more information. 

    Q. Can you comment about file locking issues over NFS?

    A. Locking is needed by NFS to maintain file consistency in the face of multiple readers and writers. Locking in NVSv3 was difficult to manage; if a server failed or clients went AWOL, then the lock manager would be left with potentially thousands of stale locks. They often required manual purging. NFSv4 simplifies that by being a stateful protocol, and by integrating the lock management functions and employing timeouts and state, it can manage client and server recovery much more gracefully. Locks are, in the main, automatically released or refreshed after a failure.

     Q. Where do things like AFS come into play? Above NFS? Below NFS? Something completely different?

    A. AFS is another distributed file system, but it is not POSIX compliant. It influenced but is not directly related to NFS. Its use is relatively small; SMB and NFS dominate. Wikipedia has a good overview.

    Q. As you said NFSv4 can hide some of the directories when exporting to clients. Can this operation hide different folders for different clients?

    A. Yes. It’s possible to maintain completely different exports to expose or hide whatever directories on the server you wish. The pseudo file system is built separately for each server export. So you can have export X with subdirectories A B and C; or export Y with subdirectories B and C only.

    Q. Similar to DFS-N and DFS-R in combination, if a user moves to a different location, does NFS have a similar methodology?

    A. I’m not sure what DFS-N and DFS-R do in terms of location transparency. NFS can be set up such that if you can contact a particular server, and if you have the correct permissions, you should be able to see the same exports regardless of where the client is running.

    Q. Which daemons should be running on server side and client side for accessing filesystem over NFS?

    A. This is NFS server and client specific. You need to look at the documentation that comes with each.

    Q. Regarding VMware 6.0. Why use NFS over FC?

    A. Good question but you’ll need to speak to VMware to get that question answered. It depends on the application, your infrastructure, your costs, and the workload.

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