The cloud means the demise of the traditional file server


One of the most obvious aspects of the adoption of cloud technology over the last few years is the growing amount of storage available at little or no cost to end users. A good example is the way that Office 365 personal plans (OneDrive for Consumers) and Office 365 business plans (OneDrive for Business) include 1 TB of storage per user to be used to store documents and other files.

Taken together with the general availability of better networks and reasonable synchronization to ensure that copies of essential files are available offline, the cheapness of cloud storage makes you wonder just how long people will persist with file servers. In short, unless you have good business reasons to keep on-premises file servers (for example, a desire or need to maintain tight control over confidential documents), it might be time to dump the technology of the 1980s and move

In their time, network file shares were certainly a good way to facilitate the need for users to share documents and other files. But they were designed to work in a world where people use workstations connected on a WAN to access the resources needed to do their work. Network file shares weren’t designed to cope with access from a variety of mobile devices connecting across the Internet using anything from a reliable link in a hotel to a flaky Wi-Fi connection in an airport. In short, network file shares don’t map well onto the current world of work.

Among the features that people need today in terms of flexibility to access files are:

  • On a 24×7 basis on anything from a smartphone to a large workstation running anything from iOS to Linux
  • Anywhere around the world any place an Internet connection is available
  • In such a way that they can be easily shared with people inside and outside the company
  • So that the files can be edited online without having to fire up a traditional desktop application

Pretty well all of the basic cloud-based file services can deliver on these points. More sophistication is available through Office 365 group document libraries, or, if you need even more control, their SharePoint Online equivalents. Both support features such as versioning, check-in/check-out, and offline synchronization. SharePoint libraries also support workflow and the documents held in the libraries provide signals to the Office Graph database that are consumed and interpreted by Office Delve to highlight relevant information to co-workers. This kind of integration and exploitation of information that already exists within the company cannot be accomplished with network file shares.

Many companies who have moved workload to Office 365 concentrate on email first. It’s the easy and most straightforward workload to move to the cloud, especially because Microsoft has done so much heavy lifting in hybrid connectivity to make it easy to move mailboxes and establish a single logical email system that spans both on-premises and cloud platforms. But email is only the start of the cloud journey and it is a missed opportunity if companies ignore the other benefits that can be gained from Office 365. Eliminating on-premises file servers and replacing them with a more modern form of cloud-based repository seems like a pretty good next step along the cloud journey.

It’s more difficult to move documents to the cloud than it is to move mailboxes. Asking users to drag and drop files from shares to SharePoint document libraries or to copy documents to create new versions is never likely to be anything other than a recipe for boredom, drudgery, and long-term retention of those file shares. Some automated method is required to make the process quick, simple, and painless.

Tools are available to help move large quantities of files to Office 365. A quick browse of the net will throw up many candidates for you to consider, some of which are capable of moving data from many different repositories. Here are a few to get started:

Thinkscape

BitTitan

Tzunami

Lepide

ShareGate

[No endorsement is given or extended for any of the migration products offered by these companies – test them and make your own mind up!]

For those fortunate enough to be allowed to attend large technology conferences like Microsoft Ignite (two weeks away), the trade show is a great place to see many products in action and to quiz company representatives. There’s nothing like getting the low down from a human – it’s so much more satisfying than having to interpret product descriptions from web sites or understand whether reviews from others match what you’re trying to accomplish.

But moving documents en masse from one repository to another is not a good thing to do, even if it is automatic. All repositories accumulate debris over time and it’s a good thing (but not a popular task to take on) to have the owners of the repositories review the information held there and remove old and unwanted files before any movement begins. Some file types stored in the old repositories might not be supported in the new, so it’s a good idea to understand what you store and why you store it before you begin.

If you are at Ignite, why not come along to my “Bumps and Blips on the Road to Cloud Nirvana: From On-Premises Microsoft Exchange to Office 365” session at 1:30PM on Thursday, May 7. I have lots to discuss about moving work to the cloud – this is just one of the issues on my list. It’s also a topic discussed in the new “Office 365 for Exchange Professionals” book – we should have some copies to give away at Ignite too!

Follow Tony @12Knocksinna

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About Tony Redmond ("Thoughts of an Idle Mind")

Exchange MVP, author, and rugby referee
This entry was posted in Cloud, Office 365, SharePoint 2010 and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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