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SMB vs. NFS vs. iSCSI Comparison & Differences – Which One is Better?

SMB vs. NFS vs. iSCSI

Well, if you are using network protocols for the application layers – you would have heard the terms like SMB, NFS, and iSCSI. All of them are different protocols used for accessing files over the network. Though all of them work to achieve similar functionality, there are some little differences in how they get the work done. Let us make an attempt at understanding the concept in a bit more detail and understand the differences between SMB vs. NFS vs. iSCSI.

SMB vs. NFS vs. iSCSI – Which One is Better?

Well, the concepts that we would explain here may be a little difficult to understand if you are not a computer expert. We have attempted at explaining the ideas from a layman’s point of view. Let us discuss the concept under multiple heads and find how do they differ from each other.

The Configuration

When it comes to NFS and iSCSI, the significant difference between the two would be the way they authenticate the files. NFS would employ a host-based authentication system. That would mean every user on the system would be able to access the share on the machine. SMB, on the other hand, opts for a user based authentication.

Network Share Access on Linux

The option to mount the network shares would differ only concerning the packages you would need to install. The installation is done on the packages – cifs-utils and NFS-common. There should not be much difference between the two as such. You can create folders in your /mnt folder viz/mnt/smb and /mnt/NFS. Ensure to do this before mounting.

Network Share Access to Windows

SMB is a protocol supported by Windows. As such, you should be able to use it by default. The SMB protocol does not need any third party software installation as such. The NFS protocol, however, is not supported by default on Windows OS. If you are on Windows 7 Ultimate or Enterprise edition, you may be able to enable it on your system. The functionality is available, but hidden. You can locate Windows Features and activate Services for NFS under it. If you are on any other machine, you will need to have third party software for accessing NFS shares. Please beware, if you do not have a correct Windows license, it could be a nightmare. Installing it on a MacOS or Linux is quite easy compared to Windows.

The Write Options

Research and analysis have indicated that the write operations would be better off on NFS if your network share files tend to be below 1 MiB in size. The NFS protocol works three times better than the SMB protocol. The tests were conducted by taking a three times average. For more extensive files, however, the performance seems to be equivalent across both these platforms.

Read Operations

This is an area that NFS protocol moves ahead of SMB for varied file sizes. For smaller file sizes, the differences seem to be two times better on NFS than SMB. Even for higher volumes, NFS takes the lead but the difference is not much pronounced. The above two conclusions from reading and write operations, it would be safer to assume that the NFS protocol would be an excellent option for smaller file sizes, while it should not differ much as you move towards higher file sizes.

iSCSI- A Third Option


iSCSI is entirely different fundamentally. Of course, it is a data sharing network protocol. NFS offers you the option of sharing your files between multiple client machines. iSCSI, on the other hand, would support a single for each of the volumes. It is referred to as Block Server Protocol – similar in lines to SMB.

Another significant difference between the SMB/NFS duo and iSCSI is the caching implications. NFS has the file system located on the server, whereas iSCSI has it located on the client side. That would make the NFS need to check for cache and metadata on the server consistently.

From the implementation point as well, iSCSI is a little difficult to handle and implement when compared to NFS. It needs you go through a host of options to look out for implementation – IQNs for hosts and storage, multiple VLANs (best practice), iSCSI service configurations, LUNs, masking – all these are bound to take a toll on your time. NFS is a protocol in itself. That would make it more streamlined and efficient in itself. Moreover, it is a shared protocol, thereby making it more advanced and easy to implement.

Which One Should You Go For?

From the analysis conducted, it is understood that the NFS protocol offers better performance than the SMB. Whether you are going for the small, medium or larger file sizes – the NFS protocol should work seamlessly better across all these formats.

If you are a Windows user, you would need to use SMB itself. Not that you would not be able to use NFS protocol on Windows system, but the task would be a little complicated. In case you are using Linux or MacOS, you may go for NFS.

Even when you compare it with iSCSI, you will find NFS scores over iSCSI in many cases. Except in situations where you need boot-from-SAN, or run Hyper-V, or Windows, or access to many files, and have the option of getting away from SMB – it would always be a right decision to opt for NFS. In fact, many of the developers and users vouch for NFS.

In Conclusion

Well, the above discussion should have made it clear enough. If you have an option, go for NFS always! Yes, it is the ultimate choice for almost all your needs. Unless you are on Windows and have to stay with SMB or iSCSI for any reason, and do not have the need for running Hyper-V or need to access a vast number of files – we do not see any reason why you should limit yourself to those protocols when you have complete freedom with NFS.

Please note that the discussion above is not for those with the technical background. We have listed the features in such a way that the less privileged would be able to understand the concept.

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