What is the Network File System (NFS)?

The first version of the Network File System, or NFS for short, was published by Sun Microsystems in 1985. The name is a bit misleading because today NFS is not the actual file system but the protocol used between the clients and the servers with the data.

The NFS protocol was designed to allow several client machines to transparently access a file system on a single server. One of the design goals was to allow a broad range of operating systems and processor architectures to implement NFS. Most operating systems have extensive native support for NFS, including Linux and macOS, but also more "exotic" systems such as FreeBSD or Solaris. Newer versions of Windows however, have native support for mounting NFS.

Today there are only two versions of the NFS protocol left in use: Version 3, which was published in 1995 and version 4 in 2000. NFS 3 is still by far the most common version of the protocol, and is the only one supported by Windows clients.

What are the advantages of NFS?

There really aren’t many. Being such a dated filing system, NFS hasn’t been able to adapt to the ever-changing needs of storage users today. It's like the lowest common denominator of storage because almost all operating systems can access NFS version 3 storage.

What are the disadvantages of NFS?

Most of the disadvantages of NFS stem from the fact that it was designed decades ago and for the communication with a single server. So what else makes NFS faulty?

  • NFS doesn't support failover. This must be done on the IP level and often causes interruptions, delays and user-visible errors (stale file handle).
  • NFS has no load balancing. It was designed for a single server, but in a scale-out storage system the lack of load balancing is a big issue.
  • NFS has no checksums. Mostly due to the high cost of checksums in the 90s, this is a major issue today. Checksums protect your data in transit and modern processors have hardware instructions for them. Even newer versions of the NFS protocol lack checksums.

Although Quobyte supports both version 3 and 4 of NFS, it also comes with native drivers that have built-on failover, load balancing, parallel IO and end-to-end checksums. Because of these features, there are no performance bottlenecks when you use Quobyte, unlike NFS, thus making it a more suitable option for most storage needs.

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