100 Days of Cloud – Day 72: Migrate On-Premise File Server to Azure Files or SharePoint?

Its Day 72 of my 100 Days of Cloud journey, and todays post attempts to answer a question that is now at the forefront of the majority of IT Departments across the world – we know how to migrate the rest of our Infrastructure and Applications to the Cloud, but whats the best solution for the File Server?

Traditional Cloud Migration Steps

The first step that most companies make into the Cloud is the Migration to Microsoft 365 from On-Premise Exchange, because the offer of hosted email is appealing due to how critical email communication is to businesses. However although there are numerous services available in the Microsoft 365 stack (which I’ll get into more detail on in a future post), most companies will only use Email and Teams following the migration.

Once Exchange is migrated, that leaves the rest of the infrastructure. We looked at Azure Migrate back on Day 18 and how it can assist with discovery, assessment and migration of on-premise workloads to Azure. Companies will make the decision to migrate their workloads from on-premise infrastructure to Azure IAAS or PAAS services based on the following factors:

  • Legacy or Unsupported Hardware that is expensive to replace.
  • Legacy or Unsupported Virtualization systems (older versions of VMware or Hyper-V).
  • Savings on Data Centre or Comms Room overheads such as power and cooling.
  • The ability to re-architect business applications at speed and scale without the need for additional hardware/software and complicated backup/recovery procedures in the failure.
  • Backup and Disaster Recovery costs to meet Compliance and Regulatory requirements.

Once thats done, the celebrations can begin. Its done! We’ve migrated to the Cloud! Party time! But wait, whats that sitting over in rack in the corner. Covered in dust, humming and drawing power as if to mock. You approach and see the lights flicker as the disks spin in protest at the read/write operations as they struggle to perform the IOPS required by that bloody Accounts spreadsheet ….

Yes, the File Server. Except its a long time since it was a simple file server. These days, File Servers encompass managing storage at an enterprise level with storage arrays, disk tiers and caching, redundancy and backup, not to mention the cost of the file server operating system upkeep and maintenance.

So we need to migrate the File Server as well, but what are our options?


SharePoint empowers your Departments and Project Teams with dynamic and productive team sites from which you can access and share files, data, news, and resources. Collaborate effortlessly and securely with team members inside and outside your organization, across PCs, Macs, and mobile devices.

All organizations with an Office365 subscription will have 1TB of storage available for use in SharePoint. Any additional storage is based on the amount of licensed users you have, and each user adds an additional 10GB of Storage yo that SharePoint storage pool. So for example, if you have 50 users, you would then have a total of 1.5TB of storage.

You also have the option to add on additional storage using Office 365 Extra File Storage, however this is limited to 25TB. This is only available as an option with the following plans:

  • Office 365 Enterprise E1
  • Office 365 Enterprise E2
  • Office 365 Enterprise E3
  • Office 365 Enterprise E4
  • Office 365 Enterprise E5
  • Office 365 A3 (faculty)
  • Office 365 A5 (faculty)
  • Office for the web with SharePoint Plan 1
  • Office for the web with SharePoint Plan 2
  • SharePoint Online Plan 1
  • SharePoint Online Plan 2
  • Microsoft 365 Business Basic
  • Microsoft 365 Business Standard
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium
  • Microsoft 365 E3
  • Microsoft 365 E5
  • Microsoft 365 F1

If you move your files into SharePoint libraries, you can then use the OneDrive Sync Client to sync both the users’ individual files in OneDrive and also be used with SharePoint Online to sync libraries that the user requires frequent access to offline.

One important thing to remember – all licensed Office365 users have 1TB of personal storage available for use, but this storage does not contribute to the overall SharePoint storage pool. You can set sharing and storage limits on both OneDrive and SharePoint using the SharePoint Admin Center.

With Microsoft 365, you have a number of options to protect the data that you place into SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business:

  • Restrict the ability to save, download, or print files on non-corporate owned devices.
  • Restrict the ability to offline sync files on non-corporate owned devices.
  • Control what users can do based on their geographic location or device class or platform.

We can also use additional features available in Azure AD Premium, Microsoft Intune, Office 365 ATP or Azure Information Protection to provide additional protections to the data stored in SharePoint.

You can find out more about SharePoint in the Microsoft documentation here.

Azure Files

Azure Files offers fully managed file shares in the cloud that are accessible via the industry standard Server Message Block (SMB) protocol or Network File System (NFS) protocol. Azure Files file shares can be mounted concurrently by cloud or on-premises deployments.

  • SMB Azure file shares are accessible from Windows, Linux, and macOS clients.
  • NFS Azure Files shares are accessible from Linux or macOS clients.

Additionally, SMB Azure file shares can be cached on Windows Servers with Azure File Sync for fast access near where the data is being used. Azure Files is closer to the traditional on-premise file shares in that you can use both Active Directory and Azure AD-based authentication to access you can use Group Policy to map drives as you would have done with on-premise file shares.

Azure Files is housed on Azure Storage and has 2 distinct billing options:

  • The provisioned model is only available for premium file shares, which are file shares deployed in the FileStorage storage account kind.
  • The pay-as-you-go model is only available for standard file shares, which are file shares deployed in the general purpose version 2 (GPv2) storage account kind.

Azure Files supports storage capacity reservations, which enable you to achieve a discount on storage by pre-committing to storage utilization. When you purchase reserved capacity, your reservation must specify the following dimensions:

  • Capacity – can be for either 10 TiB or 100 TiB, with more significant discounts for purchasing a higher capacity reservation.
  • Term: Reservations can be purchased for either a one year or three year term.
  • Tier: The tier of Azure Files for the capacity reservation, which can be either premium, hot, and cool tiers.
  • Location: The Azure region for the capacity reservation.
  • Redundancy: The storage redundancy for the capacity reservation. Reservations are supported for all redundancies Azure Files supports, including LRS, ZRS, GRS, and GZRS.

Finally, you have the option of Azure File Sync which is a service that allows you to cache several Azure file shares on an on-premises Windows Server or cloud VM.

You can find out more about Azure Files here, and Azure File Sync here.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

We’ve seen both options that are available in migrating File Servers to the Microsoft Cloud ecosystem.

From the options we’ve seen and in my opinion, SharePoint is more suited to smaller businesses who are planning to or have already migrated to Microsoft 365, while Azure Files is more suited to larger enterprises with multiple sites or regions that have higher levels of storage requirements.

Hope you enjoyed this post, until next time!

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