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Amazon EFS finally hits the market, but not for everyone

Amazon EFS is now generally available after a lengthy preview and should fill a void for many customers, though limitations will force some customers to rely on workarounds.

Amazon's long-simmering, highly anticipated storage service is finally generally available -- for most custome...


Amazon this week moved Elastic File System (EFS) out of preview, 15 months after it was first announced. The fully managed file system is welcome news to customers who have used workarounds on the platform, though, like most AWS rollouts, it's not without early limitations.

Prior to Amazon EFS, customers wanting to use file storage on AWS would have to make do with Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) or create and maintain their own service across multiple Elastic Compute Cloud instances and availability zones. That could involve building a network file system (NFS) server or using GlusterFS to work across availability zones, or turning to third-party tools, such as Zadara Storage.

EFS has such mass appeal among IT pros, so while the extended beta is frustrating, it also can be seen as reassuring that Amazon is making sure the product is ready, said H. Glenn Grant, CEO of G2 Technology Group, an AWS consulting and managed services firm in Boston.

The service works, though G2 has held off on fully putting the service to the test, Grant said. His biggest problem is it's currently only available in three regions: US-East (Northern Virginia), US West (Oregon) and Europe (Ireland).

"For our customers [who] are looking to architect global solutions replicated in multiple regions, especially Asia Pacific, we can't really roll this into their solution stack," Grant said.

There was a similar experience with AWS CodePipeline, Grant said. And while he can appreciate the need for a fast rollout with a meaningful service, the limitation comes as a surprise, because it was in beta for so long.

"Earlier in Amazon's evolution, it wasn't abnormal, but I would think that, at this stage in the game, they would be able to roll out these big impact products [globally] at the same time," Grant said.

Amazon declined to comment, but in a blog post announcing the availability, Jeff Barr, chief evangelist for AWS, acknowledged there was an extended preview period for EFS, during which Amazon addressed feedback about the need to support workloads sensitive to latency or those that make heavy use of file system metadata. Amazon also said in a press release the service will expand to more regions in the coming months.

There are other early limitations, too. EFS doesn't provide native Windows support, though customers can use AWS Tools for Windows PowerShell. It also lacks encryption at rest via Key Management Service. It's unclear if these features will be added in the future, though Amazon is known to increase functionality of its services over time.

The service costs $0.30 per gigabyte, per month in the U.S. regions and $0.33 per gigabyte, per month in the EU. Customers in their first year on AWS can use up to 5 GB per month for free.

EFS addresses self-made services

Sonian, a cloud-archiving company based in Waltham, Mass., built its own shared file system to work across multiple regions in AWS. The system is mostly for internal use for developers and operations teams to maintain consistency across regions, so swapping that out for EFS will replace an NFS server and a bunch of managed storage.

"It's one of those things that's not a differentiator; it doesn't make us better if we do it ourselves," said Pete Zimmerman, Sonian vice president of client services and operations. "If we can just buy it and take away one more operational headache, we'll do it."

There were some limitations early in the preview around how to distribute and manage EFS through the API, but that appears to have been resolved, and the service now pretty much meets Sonian's needs, Zimmerman said.

"A couple of years ago, if you were to ask me how long would I take to introduce a new service into our workloads, I would measure it in months," Zimmerman said. "Lately, we've been finding when they come out of preview, they're pretty rock-solid and reliable within weeks."

It's been such a belabored birth, it's not really a surprise. If anything, it's a bigger surprise that it's finally available.
Theo Kimhead of DevOps engineering, GoPro

The lack of a file system was one of the biggest barriers to migrating to AWS, said Theo Kim, head of DevOps engineering at GoPro, who worked with EFS at a previous job. Kim joked that he began to doubt his AWS account representative who was telling him EFS would come any day for the last eight months. So, the regional limitations aren't that big a problem at this point, he noted.

"It's been such a belabored birth, it's not really a surprise," Kim said. "If anything, it's a bigger surprise that it's finally available."

This service will be attractive to many companies, Kim said, because working around the problem in the past meant rewriting apps if they write directly to an NFS node to take advantage of S3, or standing up an NFS server mounted on either S3 or Elastic Block Store volumes.

"It doesn't pose a huge, huge challenge, but it does pose a challenge," he said.

GoPro is considering using EFS for a single use case because of limitations and storage protocols with S3 that prevent the ability to transcode a file until it's fully downloaded. He hasn't dug too deeply into the product lately, but he said there are still limitations, such as a lack of throughput control to get the type of granular control. That's something a lot of companies will be looking for, and third-party tools such as Zadara will continue to fill the void, he added.

Trevor Jones is a news writer with TechTarget's data center and virtualization media group. Contact him at [email protected]

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