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What can you do with Azure Files?

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Microsoft has long championed the idea that the future of the cloud is hybrid, extending on-premises systems to its hyperscale Microsoft Azure. Perhaps best thought of as an evolutionary process, first using the cloud to add to your existing resources, first on-premises and the cloud as backup and failover. Over time, you’ll shift to using the cloud first, bringing cloud resources into your data center when needed for regulatory or privacy reasons.

Hybrid cloud is an interesting idea, but it requires ways to migrate old services to Azure and integrate them deeply into existing systems and processes. This includes support for common services, including old favorites: File and Print.

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Data in the cloud

When it comes to files, Azure has offered various solutions over the years, with technologies such as StorSimple, Azure Data Box, and Azure Stack offering on-premises file shares that extend into the cloud, using hardware appliances. to provide the necessary endpoints in your data. center. But with Azure now supporting VPN connections, integrating its virtual networks into your network, you should be able to connect to Azure Storage without the need for an intermediary beyond a proper secure network connection.

This is where Azure Files and the closely related Azure File Sync come into play. Azure Files takes Azure’s storage service and puts a familiar file protocol, SMB or NFS, into it. You can work directly on these new shares from your PC anywhere you have a network connection to Azure. Alternatively, Azure File Sync allows you to continue using a local share as a cache with a Windows server transferring data to and from Azure.

Using Azure for storage makes a lot of sense. The underlying Azure Storage tools are designed to operate on a globally distributed service, so your data is replicated across data centers and regions. Unlike on-premises file servers, this approach can help protect data without requiring additional hardware. This approach allows it to act as a central hub for data that needs to be shared across many sites around the world, leveraging Azure’s global scale to ensure data is replicated across all regions. At the same time, built-in data protection tools allow you to prevent accidental deletion, with all user deletions capable of being a “soft delete” with a defined retention period. Snapshots will back up your data and can be retained for up to 10 years, while Microsoft Defender for Storage will protect data against malware and monitor it for possible attacks.

Working with Azure Files

Azure Files gives you an easy way to lift and move apps to the cloud, giving them the same shares wherever they run. Code doesn’t need to be updated, and moves can be handled in stages, moving data before apps. You don’t even have to change your authentication methods, with existing Active Directory permissions managed through Azure Files AD Authentication alongside Azure’s support for modern authentication through Azure Active Directory.

Once data is stored in Azure Files, you have the option of using Azure’s own storage APIs for cloud-native applications, alongside block-based SMB access for on-premises or virtual infrastructure. Azure Files can be used with Microsoft’s new virtual desktop cloud PCs, ensuring data access to users’ normal PCs as well as virtual desktops so they can work securely from home without the data of the user. company only touch their personal PCs. All data is encrypted in transit by default, although you can disable this option. When stored in Azure, it is encrypted using a process similar to Windows BitLocker. Microsoft owns the default keys and manages their rotation. If you prefer to bring your own keys for regulated data, you can, but this involves managing them yourself and also restricts access from certain protocols.

With Azure Files, there’s no need to manage the underlying operating system to keep your file servers up to date and secure. Because they’re part of Azure, they’re automatically patched and updated as needed, using only compute power when files are being written or read. Azure will work around hardware failures by using replicas to populate new disks as needed. As a bonus, your files will be protected by Azure’s data center resilience, with multiple power supplies and network connections.

Yes, it will cost more to operate than on-premises storage, but any time saved should allow you to work on new projects and services. Storage hosted on Azure can scale automatically, so you no longer wait for new hardware to increase quotas, although you have the option to set pool size limits to help control budgets by preventing users are suddenly storing terabytes of personal data about your business. shares.

Managing and using Azure Files in your network

On the management side, you can continue to use your existing Windows storage management tools with Azure Files, while moving to native Azure APIs using PowerShell or the Azure CLI. You will also need to be able to manage your Azure virtual networks to ensure you have the correct endpoints in place, for remote access and in Azure access (the latter is important if you are using Azure Files with Windows 365 Cloud PC). Modern Windows clients can take advantage of SMB over QUIC, giving you file-only VPN for trusted users.

Getting started with Azure Files is quite simple. You should start by choosing the file sharing protocol you intend to use. SMB is best for Windows systems, with support for SMB 2.1 and above, while NFS is used by UNIX systems. You’ll need to choose the type of underlying storage account you’re using: Microsoft recommends using either Azure General Purpose V2 accounts using HDD storage or FileStorage accounts using SSDs. FileStorage accounts can only be used by Azure Files and cannot be used to host other types of Azure Storage. There are other Azure storage options, some of which can host Azure Files data, but they don’t support all Azure Files features.

Getting the right performance for your storage is important, with four tiers that help manage data access. Premium is fast and uses SSD for minimal latency, while Transaction Optimization is ideal for centrally storing application data that doesn’t require low-latency access. Hot data is for most general-purpose file shares, while cold data is a cheaper and slower option best used for archives.

As Microsoft’s line of StorSimple storage appliances reach end of life in December 2022, now is a good time to start thinking about leveraging Azure Files. The platform is more flexible than StorSimple, but if you prefer to use Azure to extend local shares, you can use Azure File Sync to provide a local share that acts as a read-write cache for Azure Files.

Microsoft’s hybrid cloud vision is much broader than just your apps and data; it’s about bringing cloud and on-premises together so they’re part of a larger platform that works the way you want it to, not how Microsoft thinks you should work. Azure Files is part of that vision, helping to bridge the gap between personal, business, and cloud data. With Windows 365 cloud PCs planned to be just another virtual desktop in Windows 11, having a file system like Azure Files that is shared between your PC and those cloud PCs is going to be essential.