For a long time, the standard method for sharing files for Windows applications was running SMB (Server Message Block) shares on top of the Active Directory domain. This domain was used for user authentication and authorization as well as for enforcing corporate policies, auditing, and other tasks.
However, this setup was most commonly employed with on-premises servers, and, while it was simple to use, it had limitations. For example, each time you were about to run out of space, you had to expand your resources to accommodate more data—a time-consuming process which necessitated acquiring and setting up new hardware. You also had to think about licensing and maintaining your Windows operating system.
Altogether, the total cost of ownership for running file shares on-premises was significant. The impact of these limitations prompted Amazon to release a fully managed solution called Amazon FSx.
As a service that runs on Amazon’s public cloud, FSx should suit the needs of all clients who are running Windows applications on AWS and need supporting network file storage. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at FSx.
What Is Amazon FSx?
Amazon FSx is a service that provides file systems for various workloads, such as storage for Windows applications, machine learning, electronic design automation, and high-performance computing. FSx is a fully managed service, so the provisioning of hardware, configuration, and backups are all handled by Amazon behind the scenes. Amazon FSx also supports file systems for Lustre.
Amazon FSx for Windows File Server offers everything you need to support your Windows-based applications running on the AWS cloud, from full SMB protocol (SMB 2.0 – 3.1.1 are supported) and Windows NTFS support to integration with Active Directory for authentication purposes.
It relies on SSD storage and performs quickly, with high levels of IOPS and throughput, as well as consistent sub-millisecond latencies. You can choose the desired file system size (file systems can be as large as 64TB), and the throughput set in megabytes per second (with up to 2,048 MB/second being supported). While Amazon FSx shares are single Availability Zone (AZ), you can have a share in multiple AZs and use Microsoft DFS for replication and failover if needed.
When it was first released, Amazon FSx was only accessible from within the AWS cloud (from a VPC in which it resides); however, Amazon released an update that allows it to be used with your on-premises applications through either DirectConnect or a VPN connection. FSx shares can also be accessed from VMware Cloud on AWS and Amazon WorkSpaces.
Amazon FSx is very secure, thanks to its supporting AWS infrastructure. All of the file systems are a part of the Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), so you can utilize Security Groups (SG) and Network Access Control Lists (NACL) to allow or deny traffic accordingly. Additionally, all data is encrypted both in transit and at rest, and all activities are logged to CloudTrail. Amazon FSx is also compliant with ISO, SOC, and PCI-DSS.
How is Amazon FSx Priced?
With Amazon FSx for Windows File Servers, you pay for your defined storage and throughput capacity and for any backups you create.
Storage capacity is charged per capacity provisioned and costs $0.13 per GB each month. Throughput is also charged for the capacity provisioned, costing you $2.20 per MBps monthly. All backups (manual and automatic) are charged at $0.05 per GB stored. They are incremental, and this can help you keep costs down.
These backup costs are high—almost twice the cost of storing data in S3. This is not surprising, considering that Amazon FSx is less than a year old, and a price correction typically occurs with newer services sometime after their release. Assuming FSx follows this trend, these prices should decrease in the near future.
It is important to note that, unlike EFS, which charges you for the storage you are actually using, Amazon FSx for Windows File Server charges you for provisioned capacity. This means that you should be careful when provisioning FSx in order to avoid unnecessary overspending.
How to Use Amazon FSx for Windows File Server
Before you create your file systems using Amazon FSx, you must make sure that you have an Active Directory (AD) to use for authentication. Without it, you won’t be able to configure FSx. If you don’t already have AD in place, you can always use AWS Managed Microsoft Active Directory.
To begin using this simple platform, go to the Amazon FSx web console and click on Create File System.
Here you will choose the file system type (Amazon FSx for Windows File Server) and click Next.
You are now ready to specify all the necessary information to configure your file system. First, choose a logical name and a storage capacity amount. The minimum you can opt for is 300GiB, and the maximum is 65536 GiB. You will also need to pick your throughput capacity. The recommended setting is 8 MB/s, but you can go up to 2048 MB/s if needed.
Next, you need to establish the network settings. Make sure you choose the correct VPC, subnet, and VPC security group to be used. If you choose an incorrect security group, you will not have network access to your FSx file system.
After this, you will be prompted to set the Active Directory settings. You can pick your own AD if you are running one, or you can choose an AWS managed service.
Encryption can be left at its default setting. The optional maintenance preferences include the daily automatic backups and the weekly maintenance window. Consider setting your maintenance window during off-hours or weekends.
Click on Next, and, after reviewing the settings one more time, click on Create File System. This process will take around 10 to 15 minutes to complete. After it is done, you can check the status of your file system.
All that is left to do is map your newly created file system to a running Windows instance. Do this by first opening the Network and Security tab and copying the DNS name of your file system.
Then, log into one of your Windows instances (running in the same VPC or connected via Direct Connect/VPN), and, under Explorer, open Map network drive.
Choose the letter for the drive, and copy the DNS name and the folder to which it will attach.
Your Amazon FSx for Windows File Server is now ready to be used.
Amazon FSx for Windows File Server is a great solution for those running Windows applications in the AWS cloud. It provides a fully managed solution with all the features and support you need, and, while its pricing is on the higher side at the moment, with time, costs should decrease.
For Amazon, the release of this service was not only a good way to provide existing Windows customers (AWS or on-premises) with a necessary shared storage solution in the cloud; it was also a good move to attract new customers who are looking into cloud options. There is a great deal of competition in the public cloud industry at the moment, and Azure is a popular tool for Windows users. With this aggressive move by Amazon, this reality might not be true for long.