The File Server is not dead, but getting rid of it is not easy

Originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, November 6, 2018

Cloud based storage systems like Dropbox, Box, and SharePoint provide a relatively cheap method for data storage.  On the surface, it seems that such platforms are a perfect solution to replace file servers for businesses and government agencies.  Just copy your files up there and go, right?  Well, not so fast.  There are several issues to consider to ensure a smooth migration.

The file server has been around for several decades and provides an easy way for folks to save, share, and collaborate on documents in a secure fashion.   But file server hardware and software typically cost at least three to five times that of a standard PC and must be replaced every few years.

Furthermore, file servers can be needy machines.  Typical care and feeding includes space, power, cool air, and backups.  A reasonably knowledgeable IT person needs to manage it, adding and deleting users, defining new folders, making sure passwords are set and reset properly.

Remote access to the data on the server is another big issue.  In the current state where everyone is always working, whether at home, traveling, at the coffee shop, folks need access to their data.  And they want access from phones, tablets and laptops in addition to traditional computers.  Remote access solutions add another layer of cost and complexity to the file server environment.

Enter the cloud.  There is no hardware expenditure, just a monthly fee that is usually quite reasonable.  For example, organizations that are already using Microsoft’s Office 365 platform for email, there might not even be ANY additional cost to use SharePoint.  Remote access is built in, files can be accessed anywhere with any device.  Many, if not most IT experts believe that backups are no longer necessary for cloud-based data as the provider has backup services built in.

The migration, however, is not so easy.  First, even with a “compatible” migration, say from a Microsoft Windows Server file server to SharePoint, the security structure can be difficult to replicate.  In fact, in some cases, it’s easier to rebuild this structure on the cloud rather than try to preserve what is already there.

This may be a silver lining for organizations who have outgrown or their existing security structure.  If your IT person gives you a hard time every time you ask for someone to be added or deleted from a particular folder, then it might be time to redefine the security structure regardless.

Also, be sure to inventory any other functions your file server might be providing.  Back in the day, file servers also doubled as print servers.  Even though the popularity of that setup has declined, it is still somewhat prevalent.  Many file servers also provide DNS and DHCP functions.  Those have to be replaced or all of a sudden “the Internet will be broken.”

Finally, depending on the amount of data you have and the speed of your Internet connection, the migration could take several days.  In many cases this can be done over a weekend but even that is not acceptable for many organizations.  There are several third-party tools that can assist with staging such a migration (Google is your friend!) and Microsoft recently released a free tool to assist with migrations to SharePoint.

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