Azure Files: What Is It, and Should I Use It?

April 30, 2019

Microsoft claims Azure Files as the only public cloud file storage that delivers a simple, secure, and fully managed file share in the cloud. The ability to share a file system across multiple machines and applications is a significant advantage of Azure Files. With Azure Files, file shares are accessible in the cloud without the responsibility of managing the overhead of a physical server, device, or appliance.

So how are Azure Files deployed? Using the server message block protocol (SMB), Azure file shares are mounted to both cloud or on-premise deployments of Windows, Linux and macOS. They can be cached on Windows servers with Azure File Sync, thereby enabling offline file access.

So, is it time to retire the file server and move into Azure Files? Although showing great promise, Azure Files is still a growing product. One of its current weaknesses is the process required to mount the file share, which uses a shared storage account key. A script is run on each physical machine to create a mapping to the cloud file location, using the shared storage key, thereby enabling access to the files. The obvious downside of using a shared key is that a new key will need to be created each time a user leaves the organization, or their access requirements change.

This administrative annoyance appears to be going away in the near term. Microsoft has released a preview feature that allows for Azure Active Directory-based authentication and access control. Azure AD authentication over SMB for Azure Files leverages Azure Active Directory Domain Service, a separate Azure product, to enable this support. Of special mention is that this feature will only be accessible for Azure-based Windows virtual machines.

We aren’t ready to fully endorse it to replace your on-premise file share. Until Microsoft adds support for Azure AD-based authentication and access control, the use of Azure Files will be limited. There remain other Microsoft options for cloud file storage, including SharePoint and OneDrive, which can handle the most robust file sharing requirements.

For more detail on Azure Files, click here.

At Convverge, we can help you transition to the cloud while maintaining your productivity and minimizing downtime. Contact us today to learn more on how we can help.