Windows SMB synchronous writes with OpenZFS

Sometimes I get really pissed off with myself because I have taken a bigoted view, and ended up with eggs on my face. The past week was like that, and the problem was gnawing me on the inside all week, because I was determined to balance my equilibrium by finding the answer.

Early in the week, I was having a conversation with a potential customer. It evolved around the missing 10 seconds or so of the video footage between the users of a popular video editing software. The company had 70% Windows users, and 30% users on the Mac, both sides accessing the NAS device. The issue was the editors on the Windows side will store the raw and edited files to the NAS, but when the Mac users read them, they will often find 10 seconds or so of the stored video files missing.

The likeliest culprit of this problem is the way the SMB protocol write I/O behaves in Windows and in MacOS. Windows SMB, by default, writes I/O asynchronously while SMB on MacOS writes I/O synchronously.

I had a strong conviction I had the answer to this issue but this was not a TrueNAS®, It was another brand of NAS that I did not have knowledge of, and so, I left the conversation feeling quite embarrassed because I had the answer only on the TrueNAS® server side, not on the Windows client side. Bigotry blinded me. Hmmph! 

SMB (Server Message Block) client-server model

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My 2-day weekend with Nextcloud on FreeNAS

In recent weeks, I have been asked by friends and old cust0mers on how to extend their NAS shared drives to work-from-home, the new reality. Malaysia went into a full lockdown as of June 1st several days ago.

I have written about file synchronization stories before but I have never done a Nextcloud blog. I have little experience with TrueNAS® CORE Nextcloud plugin and this was a good weekend to build it up from scratch with Virtualbox with FreeNAS™ 11.2U5 (because my friend was using that version).

[ Note ] FreeNAS™ 11.2U5 has been EOLed.

Nextcloud login screen

So, here it how it went for my little experiment. FYI, this is not a How-to guide. That will come later after I have put all my notes together with screenshots and all. This is just a collection of my thoughts while setting up Nextcloud on FreeNAS™.

Dropbox® is expensive

Using cloud storage with file sync and share capability is not exactly a cheap thing especially when you are a small medium sized business or a school or a charity organization. Here is the pricing table for Dropbox® for Business :

Dropbox for business pricing

I am using Dropbox® as the example here but the same can be said for OneDrive or Google Drive and others. The pricing can quickly add up when the price is calculated per user per month.

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Before we say good bye to AFP

The Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) file sharing service in the MacOS Server is gone. The AFP file server capability was dropped in MacOS version 11, aka Big Sur back in December last year. The AFP client is the last remaining piece in MacOS and may see its days numbered as well as the world of file services evolved from the simple local networks and workgroup collaboration of the 80s and 90s, to something more complex and demanding. The AFP’s decline was also probably aided by the premium prices of Apple hardware, and many past users have switched to Windows for frugality and prudence reasons. SMB/CIFS is the network file sharing services for Windows, and AFP is not offered in Windows natively.

MacOS supports 3 of the file sharing protocols natively – AFP, NFS and SMB/CIFSas a client. Therefore, it has the capability to collaborate well in many media and content development environments, and sharing and exchanging files easily, assuming that the access control and permissions and files/folders ownerships are worked out properly. The large scale Apple-only network environment is no longer feasible and many studios that continue to use Macs for media and content development have only a handful of machines and users.

NAS vendors that continue to support AFP file server services are not that many too, or at least those who advertise their support for AFP. iXsystems™ TrueNAS® is one of the few. This blog shows the steps to setup the AFP file services for MacOS clients.

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Layers in Storage – For better or worse

Storage arrays and storage services are built upon by layers and layers beneath its architecture. The physical components of hard disk drives and solid states are abstracted into RAID volumes, virtualized into other storage constructs before they are exposed as shares/exports, LUNs or objects to the network.

Everyone in the storage networking industry, is cognizant of the layers and it is the foundation of knowledge and experience. The public cloud storage services side is the same, albeit more opaque. Nevertheless, both have layers.

In the early 2000s, SNIA® Technical Council outlined a blueprint of the SNIA® Shared Storage Model, a framework describing layers and properties of a storage system and its services. It was similar to the OSI 7-layer model for networking. The framework helped many industry professionals and practitioners shaped their understanding and the development of knowledge in their respective fields. The layering scheme of the SNIA® Shared Storage Model is shown below:

SNIA Shared Storage Model – The layering scheme

Storage vendors layering scheme

While SNIA® storage layers were generic and open, each storage vendor had their own proprietary implementation of storage layers. Some of these architectures are simple, but some, I find a bit too complex and convoluted.

Here is an example of the layers of the Automated Volume Management (AVM) architecture of the EMC® Celerra®.

EMC Celerra AVM Layering Scheme

I would often scratch my head about AVM. Disks were grouped into RAID groups, which are LUNs (Logical Unit Numbers). Then they were defined as Celerra® dvols (disk volumes), and stripes of the dvols were consolidated into a storage pool.

From the pool, a piece of a storage capacity construct, called a slice volume, were combined with other slice volumes into a metavolume which eventually was presented as a file system to the network and their respective NAS clients. Explaining this took an effort because I was the IP Storage product manager for EMC® between 2007 – 2009. It was a far cry from the simplicity of NetApp® ONTAP 7 architecture of RAID groups and volumes, and the WAFL® (Write Anywhere File Layout) filesystem.

Another complicated layered framework I often gripe about is Ceph. Here is a look of how the layers of CephFS is constructed.

Ceph Storage Layered Framework

I work with the OpenZFS filesystem a lot. It is something I am rather familiar with, and the layered structure of the ZFS filesystem is essentially simpler.

Storage architecture mixology

Engineers are bizarre when they get too creative. They have a can do attitude that transcends the boundaries of practicality sometimes, and boggles many minds. This is what happens when they have their own mixology ideas.

Recently I spoke to two magnanimous persons who had the idea of providing Ceph iSCSI LUNs to the ZFS filesystem in order to use the simplicity of NAS file sharing capabilities in TrueNAS® CORE. From their own words, Ceph NAS capabilities sucked. I had to draw their whole idea out in a Powerpoint and this is the architecture I got from the conversation.

There are 3 different storage subsystems here just to provide NAS. As if Ceph layers aren’t complicated enough, the iSCSI LUNs from Ceph are presented as Cinder volumes to the KVM hypervisor (or VMware® ESXi) through the Cinder driver. Cinder is the persistent storage volume subsystem of the Openstack® project. The Cinder volumes/hypervisor datastore are virtualized as vdisks to the respective VMs installed with TrueNAS® CORE and OpenZFS filesystem. From the TrueNAS® CORE, shares and exports are provisioned via the SMB and NFS protocols to Windows and Linux respectively.

It works! As I was told, it worked!

A.P.P.A.R.M.S.C. considerations

Continuing from the layered framework described above for NAS, other aspects beside the technical work have to be considered, even when it can work technically.

I often use a set of diligent data storage focal points when considering a good storage design and implementation. This is the A.P.P.A.R.M.S.C. Take for instance Protection as one of the points and snapshot is the technology to use.

Snapshots can be executed at the ZFS level on the TrueNAS® CORE subsystem. Snapshots can be trigged at the volume level in Openstack® subsystem and likewise, rbd snapshots at the Ceph subsystem. The question is, which snapshot at which storage subsystem is the most valuable to the operations and business? Do you run all 3 snapshots? How do you execute them in succession in a scheduled policy?

In terms of performance, can it truly maximize its potential? Can it churn out the best IOPS, and deliver at wire speed? What is the latency we can expect with so many layers from 3 different storage subsystems?

And supporting this said architecture would be a nightmare. Where do you even start the troubleshooting?

Those are just a few considerations and questions to think about when such a layered storage architecture along. IMHO, such a design was over-engineered. I was tempted to say “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

Elegance in Simplicity

Einstein (I think) quoted:

Einstein’s quote on simplicity and complexity

I am not saying that having too many layers is wrong. Having a heavily layered architecture works for many storage solutions out there, where they are often masked with a simple and intuitive UI. But in yours truly point of view, as a storage architecture enthusiast and connoisseur, there is beauty and elegance in simple designs.

The purpose here is to promote better understanding of the storage layers, and how they integrate and interact with each other to deliver the data services to the network. In the end, that is how most storage architectures are built.


A Paean to NFS

It is certainly encouraging to see both NAS protocols, NFS and SMB, featured well in the latest VMware® vSAN 7 Update 1 release. The NFS v3 and v4.1 support was already in vSAN 7.0 when it was earlier announced as part of its Native File Services for vSAN. But some years ago, NFS was not always the primary storage protocol of choice. SAN protocols, Fibre Channel and iSCSI, were almost always designated to serve enterprise applications. At the client side, Windows became prominent, and the SMB/CIFS protocol dominated the landscape of the desktop. This further pushed NFS into the back closet.

NFS or Network File System has its naysayers. The venerable, but often maligned distributed network file protocol is 36 years today. In storage vendors such as NetApp®, VAST Data, Pure Storage FlashBlade, and Dell EMC Isilon, NFS is still positioned as the primary file protocol for manufacturing testers on the shop floor, EDA/eCAD applications, seismic and subsurface applications in Oil & Gas and many more. In another development, just like its presence in the vSAN Native Services,, NFS has also quietly embedded itself into many storage platforms to serve the data platform services within the respective framework itself.

And I have experienced NFS from the client side to the enterprise applications and more, and I take this opportunity to pay tribute.

NFS (Network File System) client server network

NFS (Network File System) client server network

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FreeNAS 11.2 & 11.3 eBook

[ Full disclosure: I work for iXsystems™ Inc. This eBook was 3/4 completed when I joined on July 1, 2020 ]

I am releasing my FreeNAS™ eBook today. It was completed about 4 weeks ago, but I wanted the release date to be significant which is August 31, 2020.

FreeNAS logo

Why August 31st? Because today is Malaysia’s Independence Day.

Why the book?

I am an avid book collector. To be specific, IT and storage technology related books. Since I started working on FreeNAS™ several years ago, I wanted to find a book to learn. But the FreeNAS™ books in the market are based on an old version of FreeNAS™. And the FreeNAS™ documentation is a User Guide where it explains every feature without going deeper with integration of real life networking services, and situational applications such as SMB or NFS client configuration.

Since I have been doing significant amount of feature “testings” of FreeNAS™ from version 9.10 till the present version 11,3 on Virtualbox™, I have decided to fill that gap. I have decided to write a cookbook-style FreeNAS™ on Virtualbox™ that covers most of the real-life integration work with various requirements including Active Directory, cloud integration and so on. All for extending beyond the FreeNAS™ documentation.

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Valuing the security value of NAS storage

Garmin paid, reportedly millions. Do you sleep well at night knowing that the scourge of ransomware is rampant and ever threatening your business. Is your storage safe enough or have you invested in a storage which was the economical (also to be known as cheap) to your pocket?

Garmin was hacked by ransomware

I have highlighted this before. NAS (Network Attached Storage) has become the goldmine for ransomware. And in the mire of this COVID-19 pandemic, the lackadaisical attitude of securing the NAS storage remains. Too often than not, end users and customers, especially in the small medium enterprises segment, continue to search for the most economical NAS storage to use in their business.

Is price the only factor?

Why do customers and end users like to look at the price? Is an economical capital outlay of a cheap NAS storage with 3-year hardware and shallow technical support that significant to appease the pocket gods? Some end users might decided to rent cloud file storage, Hotel California style until they counted the 3-year “rental” price.

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The True Value of TrueNAS CORE

A funny thing came up on my Twitter feed last week. There was an ongoing online voting battle pitting FreeNAS™ (now shall be known as TrueNAS® CORE) against Unraid. I wasn’t aware of it before that and I would not comment about Unraid because I have no experience with the software. But let me share with you my philosophy and my thoughts why I would choose TrueNAS® CORE over Unraid and of course TrueNAS® Enterprise along with it. We have to bear in mind that TrueNAS® SCALE is in development and will soon be here next year in 2021.

The new TrueNAS CORE logo

The real proving grounds

I have been in enterprise storage for a long time. If I were to count the days I entered the industry, that was more than 28 years ago. When people talked about their first PC (personal computer), they would say Atari or Commodore 64, or something retro that was meant for home use. Not me.

My first computer I was affiliated with was a SUN SPARC®station 2 (SS2). I took it home (from the company I was working with), opened it apart, and learned about the SBUS. My computer life started with a technology that was meant for the businesses, for the enterprise. Heck, I even installed and supported a few of the Sun E10000 for 2 years when I was with Sun Microsystems. Since that SS2, my pursuit of knowledge, experience and worldview evolved around storage technologies for the enterprise.

Open source software has also always interested me. I tried a few file systems including Lustre®, that parallel file system that powered some of the world’s supercomputers and I am a certified BeeGFS® Systems Engineer too. In the end, for me, and for many, the real proving grounds isn’t on personal and home use. It is about a storage systems and an OS that are built for the enterprise.

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Resilient Integrated Data Protection against Ransomware

Early in the year, I wrote about NAS systems being a high impact target for ransomware. I called NAS a goldmine for ransomware. This is still very true because NAS systems are the workhorses of many organizations. They serve files and folders and from it, the sharing and collaboration of Work.

Another common function for NAS systems is being a target for backups. In small medium organizations, backup software often direct their backups to a network drive in the network. Even for larger enterprise customers too, NAS is the common destination for backups.

Backup to NAS system

Typical NAS backup for small medium organizations.

Backup to Data Domain with NAS Protocols

Backup to Data Domain with NAS (NFS, CIFS) Protocols

Ransomware is obviously targeting the backup as another high impact target, with the potential to disrupt the rescue and the restoration of the work files and folders.

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