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CIFS for VCF and vSAN?

The year was 2019 and at VMworld Barcelona, someone asked me “When will vSAN support CIFS?.” This is a question I get from time to time, and I responded the same as always.

“vSAN will NEVER support CIFS”

VMware Cloud Foundation 7, and vSAN 7 now offer native file services, starting with NFS v3 and NFS v4.1 as the first file protocols. Why was NFS chosen first? Why not CIFS?

A historical detour into what is CIFS…

CIFS (Common Internet File System) was effectively a Microsoft extension of IBM’s SMBv1 from around the time of Appletalk rising and falling in usage. It had some issues:

  • Despite “internet” being in the name, it is in a tie for last with NetBIOS for things you don’t want on the public internet.
  • There were lots of weird proprietary extensions, unstable client implementations.
  • Security is baaaaad (and not getting fixed). Us CERT says to stop using it.
  • After Microsoft deprecated it usage has plummeted to ancient legacy devices. Devices like that 15-year-old copier/scanner want to bash with a hammer, and that Windows XP machine that controls the HVAC system everyone forgot about.

Due to the opportunity for downgrade attacks from SMB2, Microsoft pushed out a service to disable it automatically. This effectively ended its era, and new versions of windows lack the binaries to use it (only in place upgrades still had it around).

Image
Yes, that’s a service that exists to automatically remove a service. There’s got to be a better name for this?

“But John, xxxx vendor stills calls windows file shares CIFS”

I actually asked that vendor, why they call it a CIFS gateway and was told: “we have a few large customers, who haven’t updated their RFP templates from when new coke was still a thing…”

“John, will you stop pedantically correcting everyone who says CIFS, surely they mean SMB?”

The owner of the protocol Ned Pyle at Microsoft actually gets even more annoyed than me by people calling it CIFS.

What about SMB3.x

While SMB 3.x share still exists and holds lots of departmental shares, and roaming profiles, and various “junk drawers” of forgotten files, this is not a super exciting high growth right now. Sync and Share products (OneDrive/Dropbox) are for many shops slurping up a lot of this use case for unstructured data that needs to accessed by windows clients. It is worth noting that even the best 3rd party implementations of SMB3.x tend to cut corners on the full Microsoft server implementation, and many features associated with a windows file server (FSRM reporting and file screens, quotas, NTFS ACLs) are not actually a part of SMB and something that has to be implemented in the backing file system or emulated etc. Don’t worry, VMware is still looking at SMB 3.x support, but first, it’s time to address why NFS…

The better question: Why start with NFS?

When picking what protocols vSAN would support first, it was critical to look at what is driving new file share use cases in the data center, and specifically what are the file needs for Kubernetes developers. The goal of vSphere 7 with Kubernetes is to make VMware Cloud Foundation the premier platform for cloud-native application development and deployment. The existing ReadWriteOnce support delivered in vSAN 6.7U3 helps automate block workloads to containers using the CSI, but for applications that need ReadWriteMany volumes, a non-block shared file system option was needed.

NFSv3 strengths

In addition to the Kubernetes use case, there are a number of various infrastructure related use cases for NFS, ranging from a vCenter backup target, to content catalog, archive target, and repository share. NFSv3 especially does well with these use cases, as it’s simple, and the protocol has seen little interop issues in the over 20 years since it was ratified as a RFC. In general, it has aged a bit like a fine wine (as opposed to CIFS which as aged like milk sitting in the sun).

I’m honestly not a cheese guy, but this is what I assume CIFS would look like as cheese

NFSv4.1Back to the Future

One of the considerations, with file servers as an extension of VMware Cloud Foundation based HCI, is making sure that:

  1. Performance scales linearly with the nodes
  2. Consumption is cloud-like and can be easily automated

A critical feature that NFSv4.1 includes, that v3 does not, is the ability to use a virtual namespace across multiple file servers, and seamlessly redirect connections to the right one every time, without having to make the consumer of NFS go look anything up. I go into what this looks like in this blog a bit. As well as the following video.

So what’s the future of vSAN File Services?

While vSAN file services deliver a great experience for cloud-native services and infrastructure shares, it will continue to evolve to meet the needs of more and more applications and users as time goes on. The unique auto-scaling container structure can support adding additional containers to speak different protocols. Lastly, the unique hypervisor integrated IO path opens up some interesting future possibilities to extend VMware Cloud Foundation’s lead as the leading application platform.

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