The evolution of a traditional file server thanks to the potential offered by Azure

The file server continues to be a strategic and heavily used component in our customers' datacenters. Often we are looking for modern solutions that allow you to effectively and functionally centralize the network folders of your infrastructure, while maintaining characteristics in terms of performance, compatibility and flexibility. This article explores the features of the Azure File Sync solution, which allows you to benefit from the potential offered by the Microsoft Azure public cloud as regards synchronization, the provision and protection of file server contents.

The challenges of traditional file servers

Using file servers in traditional mode to provide users with a repository to store content, we often find ourselves in the conditions of:

  • adopt legacy solutions that are inflexible and inefficient
  • having to host a large number of rarely accessed archive folders in their data centers
  • deliver content in an ineffective way in multi-site contexts
  • have difficulty in quickly restoring the provision of the service in the event of faults, security issues or major outages

The principles of operation of Azure File Sync

Azure File Sync is a solution that allows you to centralize the network folders of your infrastructure in Azure Files, maintaining flexibility, the performance and compatibility of a traditional Windows file server. Although there is the possibility to choose to keep a complete copy of your data in an on-premises environment, Azure File Sync allows you to transform Windows Server into a "cache" to quickly access the content on a given Azure file share: in this case all the files are present in the cloud, while the most recent files are also present on the on-premises file server.

Figure 1 – Azure File Sync architecture

Local access to data can occur with any protocol available in Windows Server, such as SMB and NFS. Furthermore, you have the possibility of having multiple "cache" servers located in different geographic locations. Finally, is allowed to directly access content on the File Share from other Azure resources (IaaS and PaaS).

Figure 2 - Access to content in Azure File share

Benefits of Azure File Sync

Among the benefits that can be obtained by adopting the Azure File Sync solution we find:

  • Cloud tiering: are maintained locally only recently accessed data. This allows you to control the amount of disk space used on-premises for storing content. Consequently, cost savings for local storage are achieved, as only part of the data will be stored locally. Files in the cloud can always be quickly retrieved on demand, without interruptions for the user, thus ensuring an optimal experience.
  • Synchronization and multi-site access: you have the option to sync between different sites, allowing to write access to the same data between different Windows Server and Azure Files.
  • Disaster recovery and business continuity: you have the possibility to immediately restore the file metadata and to recall only the necessary data, for faster service reactivation in Disaster Recovery scenarios. Furthermore, Azure File offers several possibilities when it comes to data redundancy.
  • Backup cloud-side: becomes invalid the need to back up data on premises. Content protection can be done directly in the cloud, as described in the following paragraph. This means that it is possible to obtain a reduction in costs with regard to the hardware and software used to perform the on-premises backup.

Azure File share protection

The ability to enable the Cloud Tiering makes Azure File Sync a particularly interesting solution, but this aspect in particular requires making the necessary considerations as regards the data protection strategy. As well as antivirus solutions, backup solutions may cause files stored in the cloud to be recalled through the Cloud Tiering feature. Microsoft recommends a cloud backup solution to back up Azure File share instead of an on-premises backup solution. Among the various workloads supported by Azure Backup, Azure Files is also included:

Figure 3 - Overview of Azure Backup and its features

Azure Backup uses different backup technologies for each workload it can protect. Going into detail, the protection of the Azure File shares used by Azure File Sync can be done using Azure Backup, according to the following architecture:

Figure 4 – Architecture for the protection of Azure File shares

For more details please visit the Microsoft's official documentation.

Advantages of protecting Azure File shares with Azure Backup

The Azure File share protection process using Azure Backup offers the following benefits:

  • Zero infrastructure: no infrastructure is required to enable environmental protection.
  • Security: Azure Backup ensures that backup data is stored securely by leveraging the Azure platform's built-in security features such as RBAC and encryption. Furthermore, with the soft-delete functionality you get advanced protection from any accidental and harmful attempts to delete backups.
  • Customizing retention policies: backups can be configured with data retention policies daily, weekly, monthly and yearly, based on your needs.
  • Built-in management capabilities: you can schedule your backups and specify the retention period you want in a way that is fully integrated into the platform.
  • Instant Restore: Azure File Share backup uses snapshots, this allows you to select only the files you want to restore instantly.
  • Alerts and reports: you can configure alerts for backup and restore operations that present errors. You can also use the reporting solution provided by Azure Backup to get detailed information about backup jobs.


Thanks to the adoption of Azure File Sync, it is possible to evolve traditional file servers with modern and functional features such as cloud tiering, synchronization between multiple sites, the quick DR, direct access in the cloud environment and integration with cloud backup.

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