Disappointed with SharePoint or Citrix Files?
Or haven't tried them due to security concerns?
Seeking a better solution than VPN or RDP for accessing your company's file servers?
Find out why file server mobilization is the game-changing strategy for organizations unable to migrate their file servers.
Enterprise file servers enable employees on connected devices to collaborate on files and folders. File server mobilization extends the capabilities of file servers to remote locations and mobile workers, with an emphasis on backward compatibility. This has become increasingly important for organizations facing migration issues related to usability, lifecycle management, application compatibility, sovereignty and cost.
An enterprise file server allows employees using connected devices such as Windows PCs, macOS, or mobile devices to access files and folders and collaborate with others in the workplace. Typically, this concept is restricted to access within a local network. However, since 2006, the introduction of AWS and Amazon S3, along with various file sharing and synchronization platforms such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive, has changed the concept of the file server.
This has led to a wave of interest in file server migration, also known as file sync and share, as people have realized how services like Dropbox and OneDrive can sync files and make them available to users at any time. As a result, we have seen numerous waves of migration where file servers have been replaced with external file sharing services to increase employee mobility and productivity.
However, file server migration has not solved all of the problems organizations encounter when trying to provide remote access to their employees. And that's because of the lack of file server compatibility.
To understand file server mobilization, we must first examine file server migration and consider the problems it has solved and created. Although file server migration has made it more convenient to access files and folders from remote locations, it is not necessarily the best solution for everyone.
Companies like Dropbox offer file server migration solutions. This requires uploading files and folders to a third-party site before the solution can offer its services. The main method of making files and folders available on mobile devices through file server migration is file synchronization.
However, companies often face the problem of moving their data to another location and changing employee behavior from direct file access to file synchronization.
Before we get into the mobilization of file servers, it is important to mention the common methods for remote access to file servers, such as Virtual Private Network (VPN) or Remote Desktop (RDP). The history of VPN dates back to 1996. It is a client-server technology that requires the company to set up a VPN server and the end users to install a VPN client agent on their Internet-connected devices. With this setup, users can access the file server remotely, allowing them to access and store files on the file server while on the road.
However, VPN technology is becoming increasingly problematic for enterprise users. This is primarily because VPN extends a private network to connected devices, which requires end users to understand network topology and technology. In addition, enterprise support teams must constantly deal with VPN-related requests from external employees, leading to inefficiencies and delays.
From this we can conclude that neither file server migration (file sync and share) nor traditional VPN methods can meet all the needs of business users. File server migration focuses on employee mobility at the expense of file server compatibility, as files must be moved and reorganized, while the file access method is replaced by file synchronization. VPN access, on the other hand, focuses on 100% file server compatibility, but sacrifices the flexibility and performance benefits of file synchronization and sharing solutions. File server mobilization offers the best of both worlds with a solution that extends file server capabilities to remote locations and mobile workers while maintaining backward compatibility with existing systems.
File server mobilization makes it easier for remote users to access files and folders from remote and mobile devices without the need for a VPN or RDP. Technically, file server mobilization is a software component that includes remote access features and interacts directly with existing file servers to manage drive mappings, file locking, permission controls, user identities, and things like external references (XREF) for application compatibility.
How to choose between file server migration and file server mobilization?
File server migration doesn’t focus on application compatibility. Users need workarounds for legacy applications like InDesign and AutoCAD.
File server mobilization focuses on compatibility with seamless drive mapping, file locking and permission controls.
Sync folders change the way users access files and folders, disrupting workflows.
Users get drive letters matching those of the local network without requiring a VPN.
Customers rely on the provider’s Data Life Cycle Management for data backup and retention.
Customers leverage existing file server lifecycle management without disruption.
After file server migration, the file server is decommissioned.
After mobilization, the file server can remain active or be decommissioned.
File server migration focuses on moving data to the cloud to reduce local management overhead.
Data can remain on the file server or shift to a private cloud for ownership, privacy, compliance and compatibility reasons.
While migrating file servers to the cloud can meet some mobile needs, more companies are finding that it does not completely work for them. While solutions like OneDrive and SharePoint (included in Microsoft 365/Office 365 subscriptions) can be convenient, many companies encounter issues with ease of use, data lifecycle management, application compatibility, data ownership, compliance, control, and migration complexity. But these are just symptoms of incompatibility, and a large percentage of data remains on-premises because of them.
When companies struggle with migration, it is typically because of compatibility issues that could have easily been resolved by choosing file server mobilization.
Here are the five clues why mobilizing file servers is a better strategy for organizations that can not migrate their file servers.
To maintain productivity and minimize costs, organizations still need mapped drives and file server compatibility combined with mobility.
From backing up data to restoring a single file, organizations need flexible data services and retention policies.
Legacy applications like AutoCAD and InDesign are not compatible with external file sync and share services such as SharePoint, OneDrive, and Dropbox.
Files sometimes need to be stored in a specific region to comply with regulations. Certain industries have their own policies that govern data access and tracking.
The larger the data set, the more complex the migration process. The longer it takes, the more error-prone the process becomes, and the higher the cost.
Both help organizations become more mobile and productive. File server migration is usually the first method enterprises try because OneDrive is built into the Windows operating system and other solutions like Dropbox, Box and Google Drive are well-established. But if file server migration does not work for you, how do you identify patterns so that in certain situations, file server mobilization is a better fit? Or better yet, how can you predict when you should start with mobilization?
Mapped drives provide users with a familiar file system interface that makes it easier for them to work with files and folders. This can help minimize the learning curve and improve user adoption, especially for those unaccustomed to using webbased interfaces like SharePoint.
Some organizations rely on legacy applications or workflows designed to work with file servers and mapped drives. In such cases, it can be challenging to migrate these applications or processes to others without significant development effort.
Accessing files on a mapped drive or file server can be faster than working with SharePoint, especially for large files or when network connections are slow or unreliable. This can be critical for organizations that need to access large files in real time, such as design or engineering firms.
Some organizations have strict data protection policies or regulatory requirements that mandate the use of on-site file servers instead of cloud-based solutions such as SharePoint. Mapped drives can help organizations maintain control over their data while providing easy access to end users.
Organizations that have already made significant investments in on-premises infrastructure may prefer to leverage their existing file servers and storage solutions rather than adopt a new platform like SharePoint.
Mapped drives and file servers can provide granular access control and permissions that may be more appropriate for certain organizations than SharePoint's permissions model.
One of the most common complaints about file server migration (File Sync and Share Service or SharePoint) is that data backup and control becomes less flexible once the data is in a different location. For example, with SharePoint, there is only one retention period, which may not be sufficient for your needs. If you need to back up data from time to time, if you need to restore a file and leave it undeleted, or if you need a full audit of file access, you have to rely on what the third-party vendor can do for you, and sometimes it may be impossible to help.
The situation is the same whether your own IT department or your MSP provides mobilization support for your file servers. With local IT support, backup, custom retention policy, and ad hoc retrieval of files from the archive can all be handled by a local trusted advisor when they get their hands on the data.
Most cloud solutions you use as a direct result of file server migration will force you to change your daily workflows. SharePoint, for example, might require you to split data into multiple libraries or shorten file names, breaking external references to files and links between files. Other solutions, like Dropbox, force you to rethink permission control for multiple sets of files. These changes and limited support for advanced features such as file locking are incompatible with applications such as AutoCAD and InDesign in a multi-user environment.
If companies are in any of the following industries, they typically need more application compatibility with 3D rendering and graphic design applications:
• Real Estate
While SharePoint is compliant with many industry standards and regulations, organizations may have specific compliance requirements that go beyond SharePoint’s built-in capabilities.
SharePoint’s permissions model and access controls may not meet the needs of every organization and certainly differ from traditional Active Directory and NTFS permissions on file servers.
SharePoint stores data in Microsoft data centers, which can lead to privacy concerns for some organizations, especially those with strict data residency requirements.
Organizations that need a hybrid storage solution that combines cloud storage with on-premises storage or object storage but requires a unified file system interface.
Transferring data from legacy systems to external service can be complex and time-consuming. Depending on the volume and complexity of the data, organizations may need to invest in migration tools, consulting services, or additional staff to facilitate the process.
Many organizations require customizations to meet their unique business needs, which can make the migration process more complex and expensive. In addition, integrating SharePoint with other business applications or systems may require custom development or third-party tools.
Switching to SharePoint. OneDrive, Teams, Dropbox and Google Drive may require training and support for end users and IT employees, even after a successful restructuring for data migration, which can be costly and time-consuming.
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