The four pillars of the global file system - The EE

The four pillars of the global file system

For years the concept of a single file system that can serve all outskirts of anenterprise organisation was considered an IT fantasy; an ideal solution, certainly, but impractical to implement and possibly impossible to achieve.

As a result, storage architects for years have defaulted to using a mix of systems, ranging from legacy NAS at the core or headquarters, file servers for branches, and cloud file sharing for laptop and roaming users, says Jim Crook, senior director of marketing, CTERA

But today the IT equilibrium has shifted. The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed a whole set of new IT challenges for extending fast and secure access to corporate data from any location over a single namespace with consistent access control. This is the purpose of the global file system, which has emerged as a preferred enterprise technology for modernising storage infrastructure and data services.

Global file systems employ elastic public or private cloud storage as a repository for a central, “golden” copy of data that is then cached to local devices for quick, secure and efficient file access from any device anywhere. These solutions have been proven to reduce storage costs by up to 80%, compared to legacy NAS and other approaches.

But how do we standardise on the necessary components in a global file system that separate reality from hype, and fact from fiction? In this article we articulate the critical underlying technological pillars (performance, security, migration, and usability) of the global file system in order to help customers understand available options during the storage infrastructure modernisation decision-making process.


Cloud without local performance is a non-starter for organisations supporting any size of file workload. Edge caching and multi-site file synchronisation are table stakes for a global file system.

Jim Crook

But global file systems vary wildly when it comes to performance and in particular file sync speeds. On the slower side, organisations move a few terabytes of data per day from edge locations to the cloud. Higher performance global file systems can sync more than 30TB per day per site. If your provider tells you its file data throughput is fast, ask them to show you the data, especially if your organisation has distributed locations with varying degrees of latency.


Cloud still often represents a leap of faith for organisations comfortable with on-premises file storage systems. However, the right global file system can empower organisations to adopt the cloud without sacrificing the privacy and security of their data, as private deployments and end-to-end encryption offers confidence for organisations seeking to modernise their infrastructure. Security is an indispensable pillar of the multi-cloud global file system.

Feature-rich global file systems can even help organisations meet GDPR and data sovereignty regulations by enabling granular segmentation based on geography or department. This allows the IT team to control who sees what in the global file system: for example, prevent the accounting department from having access to HR file shares, restrict access to sensitive data across the organisation or sync Germany-focused data only to the Berlin office and nowhere else.

A major concern for any organisation continues to be ransomware, as 51% of businesses had their data leaked after ransomware attacks in 2020. When assessing multi-cloud global file systems, look out for those that offer multi-layer antivirus scanning (protection at both edge and cloud) and data recoverability features.


Migrating from legacy NAS can be frustrating for a number of reasons:

  • Incompatibility between the legacy system and the cloud system
  • Incomplete sync of critical items such as access control lists (ACLs), folders, and permissions
  • Vendor migration tools so complex that a professional services team is required
  • Vendor doesn’t have migration capabilities and third-party software is required.

If you can’t migrate data the way you want to, what’s the point? You might as well stay with your old filer.

IT teams should be able to simply, efficiently and quickly migrate data to their new global file systems. Automated migration functionality that fully preserves folder structure and permissions is vital for a smooth transition that doesn’t impact worker productivity. Remember to ensure that your chosen global file system is compatible with the legacy file server infrastructure.


The truth is that enterprise platforms, including file systems, can fall short in driving user excitement, or in meeting user expectations for feel, slickness, and general productivity, resulting in wasted time spent trying to get to grips with different systems.

This is why usability is the critical fourth global file system pillar. The way to solve any usability issues is to implement a smooth and intuitive experience on both mobile and desktop, to be compatible with any operating system, so that Mac users can enjoy the same level of performance and file system compatibility that PC users do. Tackling these issues ensures workers have an efficient, effortless and productive user experience.

Without these fundamental pillars, no multi-cloud global file system can deliver on its promise. IT teams must bear all four elements of performance, security, migration, and usability in mind when assessing a new solution to empower digital transformation and ease the transition to remote work.

The author is Jim Crook, senior director of marketing, CTERA

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