What is a file server and how does it work

What is file server mobilization and how can it help you?

File Server Mobilization

An enterprise file server is a centralized storage location or workspace that allows employees on connected devices to collaborate on files and folders. File server mobilization means extending file server capabilities to remote locations and mobile workers, with an emphasis on backward compatibility.

File Servers in the Cloud Era

An enterprise file server is a centralized storage or workspace that allows employees on connected devices (Laptops, PC's, tablets or even mobile phones) to access files and folders and establish a workflow for daily collaboration on business-related tasks. The term "file server" is usually limited to access over a local network. Since 2006, with the advent of AWS and Amazon S3 and the various file synchronization and sharing platforms such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive, the concept of file server is also entering a whole new cloud era. The abundance of sync tools made file server migration (aka file sync and share) a hot topic as people realized how Dropbox and OneDrive ensured files and folders were synced and available to users at all times. We have seen migration waves where file servers have been retired and content migrated from file servers to external file sharing services like Dropbox and OneDrive. The motivation is to make employees more mobile and productive. But has migrating file servers solved all the problems organizations need for remote access?

How to make employees more mobile and productive?

Migration or Mobilization?

Before we define file server mobilization, we must first discuss file server migration and see what problems it solved and what new problems it created. As convenient as file server migration has made accessing files and folders from remote locations, is it the right solution for all of us?

The file server migration solutions are represented by Dropbox and other companies. The key concept of file server migration is that files and folders must be uploaded to a third-party site before the solution can offer its services. The second key concept of file server migration is that file synchronization is the primary method of making files and folders available on users' mobile devices. However, can you afford to move data to another location, and can you change user behavior from direct file access to file synchronization?

Migration or Mobilization

Still using VPN and Remote Desktop?

Before we get into the mobilization of file servers, we also need to mention the de facto method for remote access to file servers, which is via Virtual Private Network (VPN) or Remote Desktop (RDP). The history of VPN dates back to 1996. It is a typical client-server technology. First of all, the company needs to set up a VPN server. Second, end users need to install a VPN client agent on devices connected to the Internet. With the help of a VPN server and appropriately configured client devices, users can access the file server remotely, allowing them to access and store files on the file server while on the road. However, VPN is increasingly becoming a problem for enterprise users. Mainly because VPN technology extends a private network to connected devices. It forces end users to understand network topology and technology, and it's not uncommon for the corporate support team to have to deal with VPN-related requests from external employees.

Still using VPN and Remote Desktop?

Introducing File Server Mobilization

So we know that neither file server migration (file sync and share) nor traditional VPN methods can cover all the different use cases of business users. File server migration promotes employee mobility at the expense of file server compatibility by moving and reorganizing files while replacing the file access method with file sync. VPN access focuses on 100% file server compatibility, but loses flexibility and performance advantage to file sync and share solutions. Is there a better way to combine the best of both worlds, i.e. file server compatibility with mobility? File Server Mobilization is the answer.

File Server Mobilization in a Nutshell

File server mobilization focuses on file server compatibility with user behavior and applications used by users. At the same time, it makes it easier for remote users to access files and folders from remote and mobile devices without the need for a VPN or RDP. Technically, file server mobilization is a software component that includes remote access features and interacts directly with existing file servers while preserving drive mapping, file locking, permission control, user identity for users, and external references (XREF) for application compatibility.

The following is a brief comparison between file server migration and file server mobilization.

File Server Migration File Server Mobilization
File server migration typically does not focus on application compatibility. As a result, it may affect user's daily habit regarding how files are accessed. File server mobilization focuses on backward compatibility such as drive mapping, file locking and permission controls.
Providers provide a sync folder to access files and folders, for example, from a "Dropbox" folder. Providers provide drive letters that match those of the local network without requiring a VPN.
Customers rely on the provider's Data Life Cycle Management for data backup and retention. Customers leverage existing file server lifecycle management without disruption.
After file server migration, the file server is decommissioned. After adding mobilization capabilities to the file server, the file server remains active.
File server migration focuses on moving data to the cloud to reduce local management overhead. File Server Mobilization focuses on keeping the data for data ownership, privacy, compliance and compatibility reasons.

File Server Mobilization focuses on backward compatibility of file servers.

File Server Migration vs File Server Mobilization

For many companies, migrating file servers to the cloud is enough to meet the mobile needs of employees. For example, OneDrive and SharePoint are included in the basic Microsoft 365/Office 365 subscription, and the OneDrive folder is included by default in Windows 11. It is very convenient to move files and folders to OneDrive and Microsoft Teams and start working there. If everything goes well, the search for a new solution is over and this is the right solution for you.

However, more and more companies are finding that file server migration does not work for them after trying it out. Most of the reasons for the failed experiences can be summarized in the following categories: Ease of Use, Data Lifecycle Management, Application Compatibility, Data Ownership, Compliance, Control and Migration Complexity.

If you have not found the right solution for your file servers, it's not because there are not good migration solutions, it's because you have not thought about file server mobilization.

Drive Mapping Compatibility

There are situations where organizations still need mapped drives and file server compatibility combined with mobility.

Flexible Data Service

From backing up data to restoring a single file, organizations need flexible data services and retention policies from time to time.

Application Compatibility

Not all applications are compatible with external file sync and share services such as SharePoint, OneDrive, and Dropbox.

Ownership and Control

Files sometimes need to be stored in a specific region to comply with regulations. Certain industries have their own policies that govern data access and tracking.

Migration Complexity

The larger the data set, the more complex the migration process. The longer it takes, the more error-prone the process becomes, and the higher the cost.

File Server Mobilization or Migration?

When is file server mobilization better than migration?

Both file server migration and mobilization help organizations become more mobile and productive. File server migration is usually the first method enterprises try because OneDrive is built into the Windows operating system and other solutions like Dropbox, Box and Google Drive are well-established. But if file server migration does not work for you, how do you identify patterns so that in certain situations, file server mobilization is a better fit?


You Need Mapped Drives and File Server Compatibility


Familiarity and ease of use

Mapped drives provide users with a familiar file system interface that makes it easier for them to work with files and folders. This can help minimize the learning curve and improve user adoption, especially for those unaccustomed to using web-based interfaces like SharePoint.


Legacy applications and workflows

Some organizations rely on legacy applications or workflows designed to work with file servers and mapped drives. In such cases, it can be challenging to migrate these applications or processes to others without significant development effort.


Performance and latency

Accessing files on a mapped drive or file server can be faster than working with SharePoint, especially for large files or when network connections are slow or unreliable. This can be critical for organizations that need to access large files in real time, such as design or engineering firms.


Data control and privacy

Some organizations have strict data protection policies or regulatory requirements that mandate the use of on-site file servers instead of cloud-based solutions such as SharePoint. Mapped drives can help organizations maintain control over their data while providing easy access to end users.


Integration with existing infrastructure

Organizations that have already made significant investments in on-premises infrastructure may prefer to leverage their existing file servers and storage solutions rather than adopt a new platform like SharePoint.


Granular access control

Mapped drives and file servers can provide granular access control and permissions that may be more appropriate for certain organizations than SharePoint's permissions model.

Drive Mapping and File Server Compatibility


You Need Data Backup & Flexible Data Service

One of the most common complaints about file server migration (File Sync and Share Service or SharePoint) is that data backup and control becomes less flexible once the data is in a different location. For example, with SharePoint, there is only one retention period, which may not be sufficient for your needs. If you need to back up data from time to time, if you need to restore a file and leave it undeleted, or if you need a full audit of file access, you have to rely on what the third-party vendor can do for you, and sometimes it may be impossible to help.

The situation is the same whether your own IT department or your MSP provides mobilization support for your file servers. With local IT support, backup, custom retention policy, and ad hoc retrieval of files from the archive can all be handled by a local trusted advisor when they get their hands on the data.

You Need Application Compatibility


You Need Application Compatibility

Most cloud solutions you use as a direct result of file server migration will force you to change your daily workflows. SharePoint, for example, might require you to split data into multiple libraries or shorten file names, breaking external references to files and links between files. Other solutions, like Dropbox, force you to rethink permission control for multiple sets of files. These changes and limited support for advanced features such as file locking are incompatible with applications such as AutoCAD and InDesign in a multi-user environment.

If companies are in any of the following industries, they typically need more application compatibility with 3D rendering and graphic design applications:
  • Architecture
  • Engineering
  • Construction
  • Real Estate
  • Design
  • Manufacturing

SCENARIO #4 - WHEN FILE SERVER MOBILIZATION WORKS BETTER (Compared to a specific file server migration solution - SharePoint)?

You Need Compliance, Control, and Privacy



While SharePoint is compliant with many industry standards and regulations, organizations may have specific compliance requirements that go beyond SharePoint's built-in capabilities.



SharePoint's permissions model and access controls may not meet the needs of every organization and certainly differ from traditional Active Directory and NTFS permissions on file servers.



SharePoint stores data in Microsoft data centers, which can lead to privacy concerns for some organizations, especially those with strict data residency requirements.


Integration with on-premises storage

Organizations that need a hybrid storage solution that combines cloud storage with on-premises storage or object storage but requires a unified file system interface.


Complexity and costs of migration are too high

Data migration costs

Data migration costs

Transferring data from legacy systems to external service can be complex and time-consuming. Depending on the volume and complexity of the data, organizations may need to invest in migration tools, consulting services, or additional staff to facilitate the process.

Customizations and integrations

Customizations and integrations

Many organizations require customizations to meet their unique business needs, which can make the migration process more complex and expensive. In addition, integrating SharePoint with other business applications or systems may require custom development or third-party tools.

Training and change management

Training and change management

Switching to SharePoint. OneDrive, Teams, Dropbox and Google Drive may require training and support for end users and IT employees, even after a successful restructuring for data migration, which can be costly and time-consuming.

Take your file servers back to the future