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What Are My Options for Moving Files to the Microsoft Cloud?

Plenty of organisations have now taken the plunge and moved their files from fileshares running from servers on-premises to the Microsoft Cloud, often to SharePoint and OneDrive. However, there are more options than just SharePoint and you should consider the different requirements you have for files, and whether the cost is an impact – migrating terabytes of archived content to SharePoint when it is not used often could be wasted money.

So what different options are there for moving files to the Microsoft Cloud?

For active fileshares, the service that will offer the biggest benefit to staff is SharePoint. There are plenty of detractors to SharePoint, but it offers the flexibility of setting permissions, version history, remote access and offline sync with relatively little additional effort over the migration itself. The improvements with the modern document libraries have made it far easier to manage views and add additional columns without having to jump between the settings window. SharePoint Framework extensions and column formatting have replaced Client-Side Rendering/JSLink from the old document libraries to allow power users to customise their lists and add RAG Status icons and other UI enhancements where needed*. With OneDrive Sync, you can also synchronise your files to your local PC and work offline with the files automatically keeping updated to SharePoint – this really offers a common experience for people more used to working with fileshares and folders but still offering the benefits of SharePoint.

OneDrive is very similar to SharePoint but is focussed on your own files rather than shared work that you collaborate on. You can still share files and folders with others but it is geared more towards being a replacement to personal drives and even how people use the desktop to stash documents. I recommend that you treat it as private files and temporary storage, moving documents to the appropriate shared area as early as possible to improve collaboration between teams and staff. OneDrive has also become more of a single hub for access to all files in Office 365, not just your own files. It now allows you to see recently accessed files across SharePoint, OneDrive and Email Attachments, as well as a place to discover files from others that you have permission to view.

Both SharePoint and OneDrive have another huge advantage in that Microsoft is investing heavily in demonstrating how they can help with your compliance requirements, especially around the GDPR. Microsoft announced recently that their Compliance Manager product for Office 365 has reached general availability and helps organisations to view the data protection tools that are available against the regulations that should be adhered to.  There is a large drive behind Actionable Insights, i.e. giving information to the user that allows them to do something to improve compliance, not just giving arbitrary reports as was often the case before. For example, highlighting where you have documents that should be under control but do not have an active assigned owner. It is not a solution that just works and some time is needed to invest in deciding what is required in your organisation but it is a great assistant.

If the extras that SharePoint and OneDrive offer are not needed and you are looking for a closer replacement for File Shares but without wanting to maintain on-premises infrastructure, Azure File Storage is a great option. This service allows you to mount the cloud storage as a drive and for the most part allows you to treat it as you would have with a File Share by using the SMB protocol. If you have existing File Shares and want to start the process but not yet make the full leap, you can use Azure File Sync to extend your file shares to Azure, although it is still in preview at the time of writing. There is control at the top level around where these files can be accessed from, allowing you a simpler way to offer external access to file shares if needed. Currently the biggest downside to these files is that you cannot set permissions at a lower level, so if you are looking to directly migrate an existing fileshare for different departments where there is a clear requirement to set permissions it may be worth holding off for a while.

For unstructured files such as log files and other large volumes that are rarely browsed directly, there is the option of Azure Blob Storage which does not allow you to connect using Windows Explorer directly and is less designed for standard users to access files. However, if you have an application which needs to access files, this is a sensible option. For example, if you have a huge number of images that are used by an application, Blob Storage can effectively store the files.

Finally, if you have files which are not accessed often then they can be stored in Azure Archive Storage. This is slower to access files but is a far cheaper option.

* If you are looking for a simpler solution for custom column formatting that does not require you to know JSON, I highly recommend Chris Kent’s column formatting web part that makes it easier to make edits.

That is a lot of different options – how do I decide which to use?

Microsoft is very much embracing the philosophy of offering choice to its customers, as you can see with the many different options for files. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to files but there are plenty of things to consider. Making this simpler is not always easy, so to help we have broken the considerations into six different categories:

  • Cost
  • Speed of access
  • Functionality
  • Control
  • Ease of use for users
  • Access (ease of remote and offline).

We have rated the relative scores for each of the services into matrices which you can see below. This should not be taken as a definitive answer and we always recommend further reading before making a final choice.


Moving Files to the Microsoft Cloud | SharePoint & OneDrive matrix

Img 1: Moving files to the Microsoft Cloud – SharePoint & OneDrive decisional matrix © Ballard Chalmers 2018, all rights reserved.

Moving Files to the Microsoft Cloud | Azure File, Blob & Archive Storage matrixImg 2: Moving files to the Microsoft Cloud – Azure File, Blob & Archive Storage decisional matrix © Ballard Chalmers 2018, all rights reserved.

Moving Files to the Microsoft Cloud | On-Premises Fileshares matrix

Img 2: Moving files to the Microsoft Cloud – On-Premises Fileshares decisional matrix © Ballard Chalmers 2018, all rights reserved.

Want to know more about moving files to the Microsoft Cloud?

We’re happy to have a chat with you about the different options for your organisation moving files to the Microsoft Cloud. We invite you to take advantage of a no-cost informal review and discussion with one of our experts.

By Kevin McDonnell, Senior Technical Architect at Ballard Chalmers







Kevin McDonnell is a respected Senior Technical Architect with a Master of Engineering (MEng), Engineering Science degree from the University of Oxford. Specialising in .NET, Azure and the Office 365 development suite as well as a broad understanding of the wider Microsoft stack, he listens to what clients are looking to achieve and helps identify the best platform and solution to deliver on that.



Post Terms: Blob | blob storage | Cloud | Enterprise Applications | Enterprise Software | fileshares | intranet | Kevin McDonnell | Microsoft Cloud | Mictosoft Teams | On-Premises | OneDrive | sharepoint | Software

About the Author

Our technical team contribute with blogs from their respective specialities, be that Azure, SQL, BizTalk, SharePoint, Xamarin and more. From the lead architect to developers and testers, each person provides content straight from their experience.

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