How Nasuni Really Works: What Does the Nasuni File Data Platform Actually Do?

Nasuni’s Jim Liddle gives a deep dive into the Nasuni File Data Platform and the benefits it provides for its enterprise customers

January 25, 2023

After Nasuni recently acquired Storage Made Easy, a few of my industry related friends reached out to congratulate me on the acquisition. They are a technical bunch made up of executives, consultants, and IT leaders in the software space, so our follow-up conversations skipped the pleasantries and focused on what Nasuni does and how it works. During these chats, I was consistently surprised by their impressions of the technology. They’d heard of Nasuni. That was good. Yet most of them assumed Nasuni was strictly focused on cloud storage. I explained that the Nasuni File Data Platform is a lot more than a storage product – and that it’s not providing storage in the way that they were thinking about anyway.

Often when you work at a technology company for long enough, you become so close to what you’re doing that you lose sight of whether other people actually understand what you’re building and how it works. This is often referred to as the ‘center of the universe’ problem. As a new member of the leadership team, I see the platform through a different lens, and in this post I’d like to roll back the conversation to the technical basics, or what makes Nasuni different and why.

Cloud Storage vs. Data Gravity

First, I should be clear. Nasuni does do storage. Before I understood the technology correctly, I figured Nasuni was using something like DFS or a Samba module to present the file system, then pull it back to cloud. But the file system itself – UniFS – resides in the cloud and fronts that backend object storage. The Nasuni platform is effectively an ever-expanding NAS that maintains the benefits of standard file infrastructure but shifts the capacity off traditional hardware into cloud object storage resulting in limitless capacity and reduced costs.

Now, when my technical friends heard that, they immediately worried about data gravity. If your file data is stored in the cloud, and your workloads are all on-prem, you’re going to have performance issues, right?

Traditionally, yes, but Nasuni resolves this problem by deploying virtual filers that cache heavy workloads and frequently accessed data close to a company’s end users. Long before my time, Nasuni deployed these filers as lightweight hardware, but today the vast majority of Nasuni customers rely on local VMs. These Nasuni Edge Appliance VMs circumvent the data gravity issue by ensuring frequently accessed files are cached locally ‘at the edge’.

As we all know, end users do not like change, so the performance has to be as good as standard NAS. It has to be familiar, too, and with Nasuni, end users interact with a traditional, POSIX file-based interface that is indistinguishable from what they would see with a NAS. File data is stored on a company’s cloud of choice, but end users do not need to know or see any of that. They get a familiar experience and a company gets to leverage the economics and scale of cloud.

Ransomware Recovery

Where Nasuni starts to differentiate itself further is through its snapshots. What we call the gold or master copy of every file is maintained in the cloud. As end users work locally on cached files, or create new ones, the deltas are versioned to the cloud. This snapshot functionality is similar to what you would expect from a modern NAS filer. With Nasuni, however, files are chunked, deduped, encrypted, and stored as objects. Because they are stored as objects, and not files, the technology can benefit from immutability. Files become immutable objects in the cloud, which makes for some very interesting capabilities from a ransomware protection standpoint.

Let’s say a Nasuni customer was to suffer a ransomware attack. The encryption would impact the cached, locally accessible files, but the Nasuni platform maintains a complete, versioned history of every file as a series of immutable objects in the cloud. So once Nasuni detects and quarantines the attack, companies are able to easily restore individual files, folders, volumes or even the entire file system back to a point just before the incident, and restore from those immutable, unencrypted objects. Relative to traditional backup, this allows for extremely fast recoveries. Our tests have shown that it is possible to restore access to millions of files in minutes! Consider the downtime cost and how long that may tick with traditional backup.

Nasuni has additional technology services that detect and quarantine ransomware threats earlier, but the core difference here is the storage of files as immutable objects. Andres and the Nasuni engineering team conceived of that approach before ransomware was a threat, but it has proven immensely valuable as a recovery strategy.

Global File Synchronization

The last point I made to my network, in terms of what differentiates Nasuni, is another byproduct of the technology’s architecture, and it lies right there in the name. Nasuni is short for NAS Unified. All of a company’s distributed, siloed storage arrays are consolidated through one cloud platform or global namespace, which simplifies infrastructure on multiple levels while simultaneously providing a new kind of functionality. This very much echoes the ‘single pane of glass’ theme that we revolved around at Storage Made Easy and is one of the reasons why the synergies of the companies were so aligned.

Imagine two colleagues, Alice and Bob, who are based in geographically distant offices and collaborating on the same project. When Alice makes a change to a file, the gold copy of that file is quickly updated in the cloud. The deltas are then rapidly propagated out to other locations at which that file is cached. There is obviously more technical detail as to how Nasuni makes this work quickly and efficiently, but the short version of the story is that Bob’s cached local copy is quickly updated. The platform has distributed file-locking functionality to ensure Bob cannot work on the file while Alice is actively updating it, which eliminates version conflicts, and the high-speed file synchronization helps them collaborate without frustrating delays.

When I explained all of this to my industry friends, these three core capabilities stood out. Nasuni is an ever-expanding, global NAS that accelerates global collaborative workflows and offers a powerful new, transparent, protection against ransomware. It is not merely cloud storage. Nasuni provides seamless access to something that is, technology wise, old ie. files and folders, but does so in an entirely new way, that is frictionless, limitless, and cost effective. It is the modern-day file data services platform.

Ready to dive deeper into a new approach to data infrastructure?