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Network File Ssystem: Advantages / Disadvantages

by Mike Weber

Before you make a decision to setup NFS it is a good idea to consider the advantages and disadvantages of NFS.

Advantages: There is no doubt about it, files on a network will need to be shared at some time. One major advantage that NFS provides is central management. Using a centrally managed server decreases the workload for the administrator in terms of back-ups, adding software that will be shared and computer repair. Another advantage is the granularity that can be used to give access to files. Files may be accessed via IP addresses, groups, users, etc. NFS allows for a user to log into any server and have access to their files transparently.

I currently run a Terminal Server network that uses NFS with 80 diskless workstations that are literally pulled from the trash (given to us by the State of Montana) and connect to one server which is a Dual Xeon with 6 GB of RAM. The system is accessed by 150 users. The central management of this system has cut my workload by at least 85%. can't really do any damage to a diskless workstation. The entire configuation is built around one server.

Disadvantages: Probably the greatest disadvantage is the issue of security. Because NFS is based on RPC, remote procedure calls, it is inherently insecure and should only be used on a trusted network behind a firewall. This is not to say that steps can't be taken to secure NFS but it still will not be ready for the wilds of the open Internet. Another disadvantage is that you will not want a root account to access an exported file system because of the potential damage. Therefore, the system by default activates "root squashing" to prevent a root account accessing an exported file system. The "root squashing" can be changed, however. The other disadvantage that may become evident is the performance limitations on the network. NFS will slow down during heavy network traffic

One of the keys to performance, in my experience, is to replace your hubs with switches. This is the one thing that you can do that will have the greatest impact.