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Azure File Share and Sync: Collaborating Through the Cloud

The Azure File Service lets you access files in the Azure cloud just like you do on-premises, using the standard SMB protocol. This lets you build file servers on the cloud, lift-and-shift applications directly from an on-premises environment to Azure, and enable cloud file sharing between multiple applications.

In this post, we’ll review how Azure file share and synchronization work, and show how NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP can help with file sharing on Azure.

In this article, you will learn:

What Is Azure File Service?

Azure File Service, also known as Azure Files, is a part of the Microsoft Azure cloud platform that allows organizations to share files on-premises and in the cloud using Server Message Block (SMB) Protocol and APIs. It encrypts data at-rest and in-transit with HTTPS and SMB 3.0.

Azure File Service allows the creation of file shares through a built-in UI, Powershell, or Azure CLI. When using Files, like most cloud services, there is a cost for the storage space used as well as for access. It is also important to note that Files storage is limited to 5 TB.

Azure Files is one of three somewhat similar but specialized services that Azure offers. The chart below will help clarify when it is beneficial over Azure’s other offerings.

Azure Files Azure Blobs Azure Disks
Remote access to structured data through SMB, client libraries, and REST interface

Remote access to unstructured data through client libraries and REST interface

Local access to data with client libraries and REST interface
Used for applications that operate on native file system APIs, development or debugging tools, shared files through a familiar user interface Used for streaming and random access of applications or big data analytics—data is shared through file URI

Used for applications with native file system APIs—data does not need to be accessible outside of single attached VM

What Is SMB?

Server Message Block (SMB) is a client-server protocol used to share access to resources, such as files, printers, or serial ports, or to carry transaction protocols for interprocess communication over a network. SMB is able to communicate with any server program set up to receive SMB client requests over TCP/IP or through the use of NetBIOS.

Using SMB allows you to mount a file share directly on Windows, Linux, or macOS on-premise or in a cloud VM. SMB allows more universal communication between devices and grants access to security features like end-to-end encryption and AES based signing.

Occasionally, SMB is referred to as Common Internet File System (CIFS), a retired dialect of SMB that is no longer used due to its inefficiencies.

Azure Files Use Cases

Azure Files is most effectively used for the following situations:

  • File server—replaces on-premise server file storage or NAS-attached storage on Azure. Replication of data with File Sync to Windows Servers enables increased performance and distributed caching of data.
  • Lift and shift—enables migration without modification of on-premise file shares to the Azure cloud. There are options for both data and application to be moved or just data with the application remaining on-premises depend on application configuration.
  • Application share—can be configured as a centralized share of configuration files and other shared application data. The drawback to this is that only SMB protocol access is available.
  • Monitoring and analytics—enables centralization of log files and collected metrics for ease of access by enterprise monitoring and analytics tools. This ensures the data is available from any location and protects it from loss due to local crashes.
  • Development and testing—can be used as a central repository of utilities and software used during development and testing. Supports agile work environments through the ease of access.

Azure File Sync

Azure File Sync, when installed on an on-premise Windows Server, extends Azure file storage functionality by creating a local cache of files synced with files stored in the cloud. It does this in a way that is transparent to end-users.

File Sync allows local access through the use of SMB, NFS, and FTPS and includes features for Access Control Lists (ACLs), NTFS compression, and the use of sparse files. It aims to ensure that no data is lost in the case of local server crashes and to reduce complexities caused by server sprawl. File Sync can be used to tier between on-premise and Azure Files to minimize the amount of storage used for local access without sacrificing ease of access.

This is useful for transitioning data to the cloud initially and for maintaining synchronization between servers without the use of replication technology.

Azure File Share with Cloud Volumes ONTAP

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP, the leading enterprise-grade storage management solution, delivers secure, proven storage management services on AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. Cloud Volumes ONTAP supports up to a capacity of 368TB, and supports various use cases such as file services, databases, DevOps or any other enterprise workload.

In particular, Cloud Volumes ONTAP provides file services, serving NAS, including NFS, SMB / CIFS and multiprotocol access.

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Yifat Perry, Technical Content Manager

Technical Content Manager