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How to Migrate to Microsoft Azure: Strategies for MSPs

Vadim Vladimirskiy
Vadim VladimirskiyFounder & CEO, Nerdio
Windows Virtual Desktop
July 11, 2019Articles

Shared Files

Practically all existing customer IT environments will contain files that are used actively or sitting idly as an archive repository. When talking about “shared files”, we are referring to things like Word, Excel and PowerPoint Office documents. PDF files, pictures, videos, and anything else that’s stored as a file and not in a database and can be accessed via Windows Explorer.


Files can be divided into two major categories:

  • Personal files – Primarily or exclusively accessed by a single user. Typically, such files are stored on the user’s own computer in the Documents folder or on the desktop. These files include documents, pictures, videos, or anything else the user downloaded. The actual “physical” location of these files can be on the user’s own PC or on a network file server in a user folder.
  • Company files – Primarily accessed by more than one user. Typically, such files are stored on a network file server, local NAS device, or in the cloud. These files are accessible to multiple users – even if file permissions limit access to small groups of users. Examples include the “Company,” “Common,” or “Public,” type file shares. Users map drives to these file shares from their computer or access them via a UNC.


When creating a cloud migration strategy for files, we need to consider the source, destination, and the migration method with the least amount of disruption.


We’ll go into both personal and company files here. Personal files are assumed to be stored locally on each user’s PC, and company files are stored on local storage devices like a Windows file server or another storage device that supports SMB connectivity (i.e., the ability to map a drive or use a UNC path to access it).


Cloud Destinations for Files

There are four possible Microsoft cloud destinations for files, each with its own benefits, considerations, and best-fit use cases:


  • OneDrive for Business
      1. Included as part of most Office 365 packages that include Office Business or ProPlus
      2. 1TB of storage per-user account
      3. Integrated with Office suite products
      4. Accessible via web browser or installed OneDrive app
      5. Mobile app available for remote access
      6. Supports Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) through Office 365 login
      7. Designed for storing individual user’s files and synchronizing them between multiple personal devices with the OneDrive app
      8. Allows for flexible file sharing and collaboration with internal and external collaborators on a per-file or per-folder basis
      9. Best fit for storage of Personal files of each user via synchronization using the OneDrive client
      10. Ability to view and restore historic versions of files
      11. Important considerations:
        1. Files are stored both in the cloud and on each device where synchronization is configured. This can consume space in multiple places, although with Windows 10 there is an On-Demand feature that saves space by only downloading the files when they are accessed.
        2. Files are stored on multiple user-controlled devices. Security, privacy, and compliance considerations need to be considered.
        3. Files in OneDrive are kept in synch via synchronization of various local caches. Multi-user database files (e.g. QuickBooks) cannot be shared by multiple users when stored in OneDrive.


  • SharePoint Online
      1. Included as part of most Office 365 packages such as Business Premium, E1/E3/E5 and Microsoft 365
      2. 1TB of storage included for the organization, plus 10GB of storage for each licensed user who is part of the organization
      3. Integrated with Office suite products
      4. Accessible via web browser, mapped drive, or Teams app
      5. Accessible via OneDrive mobile app
      6. Support MFA through Office 365 login
      7. Designed for storing shared company files that are accessed by multiple users with preconfigured security rights
      8. Best fit for storage of Company files that are shared among multiple users and groups within the organization Ability to view and restore historic versions of files
      9. Important considerations:
        1. Files stored in SharePoint can be configured to be synchronized with the OneDrive client installed on users’ devices. It is important to take data security, privacy, and compliance considerations into account.
        2. Although it is possible to map a drive to access files in SharePoint, the storage is in the cloud and the latency of access may be an issue for large files or chatty applications (e.g. QuickBooks).

  • File Server VM in Azure
      1. Windows Server Virtual Machine running in Azure with all the familiar file services functionality including shares, permissions, mapped drives, UNC access, etc. Identical file storage to on-premises file servers.
      2. Managed disk attached to Azure VM running in an Azure region
      3. Ability to use Volume Shadow Copy to save and restore Previous Version of files
      4. Ability to access files securely from Azure hosted or remote devices via VPN
      5. Control over the location and storage of files with the ability to control users’ access to download files to local devices
      6. No native mobile app to access file shares
      7. No native way to synchronize files reliably to users’ personal devices
      8. Best fit for Company files and redirected Personal files in virtual desktop deployments
      9. Important considerations:
        1. Backup strategy – Azure Backup is a good option. Be sure Shadow Copy is enabled on all Windows volumes.
        2. File servers are needed to store shared database files like QuickBooks
        3. Necessary for storing profiles and redirected folder in virtual desktop deployment scenarios

  • Azure Files
    1. PaaS product in Azure that leverages file server functionality. The underlying file server infrastructure is managed by Microsoft and the admin receives an Azure portal UI to manage file shares.
    2. Inexpensive storage - $0.06/GB per month for Standard (slow) storage Supports mapping of drives
    3. Comes in Standard (slow) and Premium (fast) storage options
    4. Supports share permissions with Azure AD DS only, which limits usability to a small number of use-cases
    5. Backup can be performed with snapshots in Azure
    6. Best fit for large repositories of rarely accessed archive data
    7. Supports Azure File Sync, which can be used as an alternative to DFSR to synchronize file shares across multiple Windows file server.


File Migration Strategies

With multiple possible sources and destinations, there are also many different migration methods for moving files from source to destination. We’ll focus on some of the more common approaches to migrating files to the cloud, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.


Personal Files: User’s PC —> OneDrive for Business

This used to be a complex and difficult example to implement until recently. Microsoft has provided OneDrive with the capability to redirect and move Windows known folder to OneDrive. This can be done manually on each user’s computer or centrally via Group Policy. The result is Documents, Desktop, Pictures, Screenshots, and Camera Roll folders automatically synchronizing by OneDrive to the cloud and available across all devices where OneDrive client app is installed. This is very easy and convenient and with 1TB of storage per user, it should be sufficiently large for some time. Be mindful of the important consideration listed above such as security and disk space consumption on multiple devices.


Company Files: On-premises file server / NAS —> Azure file server VM

You can use native Windows tools such as robocopy.exe or a myriad of third-party file mirroring and synchronization tools to move and synchronize files between two file servers: source on-premises and destination in Azure. In all instances, you’ll configure a job that will be running on a schedule and copying over any changes from source to destination. A site-to-site VPN tunnel will be required to connect the two file servers to each other.


Nerdio has automated the configuration of this scenario with our Nerdio Data Mirroring™ technology. With just a few clicks, the two file servers will start synchronizing data using a schedule that will copy any delta data changes on a regular basis. Once the destination file server is placed into production, the mirroring jobs are disabled so the source doesn’t overwrite the destination.


Company Files: On-premises file server / NAS —> Azure file server VM using Azure Files

In a situation where the customer has a large data set with mostly inactive files, using Azure Files to store the archive data and a file server VM for the most active files is a great approach to balance cost and performance. Files can be synchronized with a file server VM in Azure using Azure Files and Azure File Sync technology with Cloud Tiering.


Here is the process at a high level:

  1. Create Azure Files share and Azure File Sync (AFS) service in Azure portal
  2. Install AFS agent on source file server and point it at existing folders containing the data
  3. Install AFS agent on destination file server in Azure and enable tiering to save storage space on destination file server
  4. Synchronization of source files server, Azure Files, and destination file server will be done in real-time


Company Files: on-premises file server / NAS —> SharePoint online

There is a multitude of third-party data migration tools to move files into SharePoint Online. These include BitTitan and SkyKick, and are very robust. However, moving the data from an on-premises file server to SharePoint is not the biggest challenge. Here are some things to consider when preparing for migration of shared company files from a file server to SharePoint.


  • SharePoint is a web-based, SQL backed file storage technology and is very different both in the way users interact with it and admins manage it than the existing file server technology. Therefore, significant training will be required to get everyone up to speed on this new technology.
  • Document libraries will need to be pre-configured in SharePoint to get the environment ready for the move of data from the source file server.
  • SharePoint is typically accessed via browser, Teams app, or OneDrive app on mobile devices. This may be a change for users used to mapped drives and UNC shortcut. It is possible to set up mapped drives to SharePoint document libraries but performance of accessing files in SharePoint via the internet will be different than doing so on a local file server.
  • SharePoint is not a good fit for storage of user profiles or redirected folders in virtual desktops deployments.


With so many cloud file storage options available, understanding the nuanced differences between them will help you make the right selection for each customer use-case. It is also important to come up with a standard playbook that you’ll leverage for most customer migrations. A field-tested, successful approach to file migration that we commonly see is using OneDrive for personal files, SharePoint for company files, and a file server on an Azure VM for virtual desktop user profiles. 


If you'd like to talk through your file migration strategies and tools to see how Nerdio can help, you're always welcome to get in touch with us.




If you're migrating any pre-existing IT infrastructure for a client, chances are that infrastructure includes their emails, contacts, and calendars. The next page is all about that - migrating email to Azure.

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