Do We Still Need File Protocols Today?



  • Traditionally the LAN is a single, open place often filled with file servers or NAS devices sharing files over "direct access" and very low security network file protocols like SMB (aka CIFS) in the Windows world, NFS in the UNIX workd, AFP in the Mac world, AFS in some IBM installations, etc. These protocols practically defined the LAN and managing shared drives, folder structures, share and filesystem permissions were the core jobs of the LAN Administrator.

    This old model was unstructured data with the file servers and network shares acting as dumping grounds for files. Nothing more, just big buckets of bits to which users had access in a largely unstructured way. It was a simple means of dealing with files in an era when there was not time yet to have developed structured data access. It was, essentially, a "client - server" model at the most basic level.

    A program, like Word, would have to look at a mapped drive and look for files that applies to it, for example. The folder it was looking at might contain many pieces of data - many of which were not Word files and that the application could not use. The application itself would need to filter result or rely on the end users to do so on its behalf!

    Modern systems and applications have begun broadly addressing these needs. Most users work in modern applications where data is stored in a structured way (generally a database) that is monitored and controlled by the application and not controlled ad hoc by the end users. Applications have mostly moved from being desktop based to being server based and those that retain a "fat" desktop client generally do so in conjunction with a server. Even the most venerable and staunchly resistant to leaving the old model, the office suites, have made the move with both MS Office and Google Apps have natively non-file server based, structure data storage modes (Google Apps having one invisibly behind the scenes and MS Office integrating through either Sharepoint or Office 365.) Old models are still available, no one is forced to switch, but the move to more modern data storage paradigms is heavily under way. The concept of using mapped drives is already starting to actually feel antiquated.

    So a huge question that I have is.... why are people still using them? Surely much of this is because "the infrastructure is already in place and moving would be a burden." And users are used to dealing with the world of file shares and dislike change, of course. And some applications either have not embraced the modern world or companies have failed to update to modern versions (Office 2007 users have been left behind while Office 2010 and later users get these features, for example.) For others, a small file share is just so easy when there is a large number of applications and a small number of files.

    But more and more companies are moving away from this model because the LAN file share is impractical or nearly impossible once we move away from the single, physical LAN design. It does not scale well at all. It poses large problems for backups, versioning, restores, performance, data discovery and more. As companies move to more disparate physical environments and more modern applications the network file share concept is going away in an organic fashion.

    With the advent of ransomware and other attacks leveraging the broad, unnecessary file access of the old "OS talks to the storage and everything rides on top of that" model this move may be far less about productivity and accessibility than suddenly being about security and protection. Ransomware is exposing in a way rarely considered just how much the old model was violating the concept of least privilege access and has been exposing us to all kinds of risks (accidental deletion, sabotage, file modification and overwriting, etc.) for years. Now that the risk is huge, perhaps it is time to rethink how companies think about accessing data.



  • OK, SharePoint and the like sound like good solutions. Luckily MS does have a free version.

    Time to seriously consider how to convert to SharePoint for 100 GBs.



  • Sharepoint is a great solution and there is a reason that Microsoft classifies it as just a part of MS Office. Sharepoint truly is the "server" component of the full MS Office package and really does take it from "clunky" to "elegant." It's an amazing pairing.

    But Sharepoint is only the first step. Is all of that data, 100GB, all MS Office files? If so, why? Maybe that is necessary but in a smaller organization that seems like an awful lot. Just as we were talking about moving unstructured data to structure at a high level by moving away from the unstructured file server model, likewise office suites are generally unstructured data that is useful for one off scenarios (don't need a bit application when Excel can do this for a one time need, for example) but are poor for large scale data creation and organization.

    In most cases I would say that yes, you move to Sharepoint for what must remain in MS Office. But you consider other tooling when possible.



  • Our onsite SMB shares are 100 GB or less, probably a lot less. 30% might be Office type documents. The rest are installers, drivers, other IT files. Those files probably won't work well on SharePoint.



  • Additionally, considerations on backup solutions have to be considered. In the past backup solutions usually had additional costs for backing up DBs like SharePoint.
    Though I think that might be changing.



  • @Dashrender said:

    Our onsite SMB shares are 100 GB or less, probably a lot less. 30% might be Office type documents. The rest are installers, drivers, other IT files. Those files probably won't work well on SharePoint.

    IT files would rarely be good to put into Sharepoint. The traditional filesystem is specifically designed around executables. Installers and drivers would be things to probably keep on a network share. But they are also things that can be read only and not exposed from a security standpoint.



  • @Dashrender said:

    Additionally, considerations on backup solutions have to be considered. In the past backup solutions usually had additional costs for backing up DBs like SharePoint.
    Though I think that might be changing.

    You could always back it up like a normal file. Just like any file, it needs to not be in use during the backup process. You can either pause the database and back it up normally. Or you can have the database itself take a backup to filesystem which is then backed up.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    @Dashrender said:

    Our onsite SMB shares are 100 GB or less, probably a lot less. 30% might be Office type documents. The rest are installers, drivers, other IT files. Those files probably won't work well on SharePoint.

    IT files would rarely be good to put into Sharepoint. The traditional filesystem is specifically designed around executables. Installers and drivers would be things to probably keep on a network share. But they are also things that can be read only and not exposed from a security standpoint.

    Exactly, I do have my directories set to read-only or no access for the rest of the staff, for exactly the reasons you've previously mentioned.



  • Ouch... Just looked up SharePoint licensing for on-prem. Assuming you need more than the essentials, just damn... really makes O365 that much more worth while!



  • @Dashrender said:

    Ouch... Just looked up SharePoint licensing for on-prem. Assuming you need more than the essentials, just damn... really makes O365 that much more worth while!

    No, not cheap at all. Sharepoint has been Microsoft flagship for a dozen years. It needs SQL Server to run too. It's a mammoth application handling so many different things. It has never been cheap once you get outside of the basics. But even the basics are really good.



  • @Dashrender said:

    Assuming you need more than the essentials,

    The first question is why do you need more than Foundation? What extra features do you need?



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    But you consider other tooling when possible.

    Such as? SharePoint is great for using Office documents in IE in a relatively stable and controlled environment (such as the Accounts Department for example, who are mostly working collaboratively in Excel, Word and Acrobat), but outside of that it can be a bit limiting.

    If you'd asked me 20 years ago if mapped drives would still be so popular today, I wouldn't have believed you. I haven't used them for years, but other users here still do for historical reasons. I use hidden file shares and place a link to the share in users' Favourites folder (now called Quick Access in Windows 10), which works pretty well. The thing I love about the file server is that Windows Explorer is just a great application. It is so much more powerful and flexible than a browser. I find working in SharePoint like walking in mud compared with Windows Explorer. That may be partly be a lack of familiarity in SharePoint on my part. I know you can use Windows Explorer to access files in SharePoint, but that seems to be defeating the object, so I've tried to avoid it.

    The only thing I don't like about Windows Explorer compared with SharePoint, is its crap search functionality.

    I'd love to hear about people's experiences with other tools.



  • @Carnival-Boy said:

    @Dashrender said:

    Assuming you need more than the essentials,

    The first question is why do you need more than Foundation? What extra features do you need?

    Lots of great features, easily worth the extra money. But the extra features here would not be ones related to the topic at hand. All of the features needed for this are included in the free tier.



  • @Carnival-Boy said:

    I find working in SharePoint like walking in mud compared with Windows Explorer.

    I would mostly agree, other than the search which is what I use and it often makes it quite a bit better for me. But what I really do is work from the interfaces inside of Word, Excel, OneNote, etc. I don't use Windows Explorer or Sharepoint's own interface. Instead I use the application that talks directly to Sharepoint and it gives me a dedicated interface inside of the app so that I use only that.



  • @Carnival-Boy said:

    @scottalanmiller said:

    But you consider other tooling when possible.

    Such as?

    Just as Sharepoint is a custom server component of the MS Office ecosystem to give it a structured data handling capability, different applications would use their own appropriate server component. It would depend on the application or need in question.

    Not all applications offer a structured back end storage system today, but more and more this is becoming the case. There is nothing that we (at @ntg) use that isn't structured. Most enterprise software is structured out of the box with data being stored in a database rather than being dumped ad hoc to a filesystem.

    Some things like CAD systems still produce standard files, but even CAD systems are starting to look at alternatives and I've heard of some providing servers rather than using the file system. Just as at the filesystem level you need the logic of NAS or a file server to handle gatekeeping for filesystem access that a SAN would recklessly expose, structured data handling systems can do the same thing at the file level or data level so that there are gatekeeping services for actual data, not just the filesystem. This allows for cool features like simultaneous editing of the same work, more protection of the data, etc.



  • Once you have made the jump from File Servers to say... O365 + Hosted Sharepoint... The problem then becomes how do you back up the data that is hosted? Do you trust your provider to do that for you? (@scottalanmiller , I know you have had problems with O365 eating stuff like files and emails)...

    Or are there some other applications that are available to help you do this?



  • Yes, there are backup services for Office 365. And there are applications like Outlook and ODfB Sync Tool that will make local copies on user by user basis.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    @Carnival-Boy said:

    I find working in SharePoint like walking in mud compared with Windows Explorer.

    I would mostly agree, other than the search which is what I use and it often makes it quite a bit better for me. But what I really do is work from the interfaces inside of Word, Excel, OneNote, etc. I don't use Windows Explorer or Sharepoint's own interface. Instead I use the application that talks directly to Sharepoint and it gives me a dedicated interface inside of the app so that I use only that.

    And I've been walking people AWAY from that method for years. The biggest problem with using the app to do the file finding is if you are in the wrong app compared to the file.

    My boss once came to me frantically looking for a file. She was in Word looking for a a file she couldn't find. I had her drop to Explorer and low and behold there was her file. It was an Excel file.



  • Along the lines of making things more mobile/universal, even Nuance now has a hosted Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) solution - I'll be looking into the costs of that soon. Currently DNS requires a network share to host the user files so people can roam from machine to machine.



  • @Dashrender said:

    And I've been walking people AWAY from that method for years. The biggest problem with using the app to do the file finding is if you are in the wrong app compared to the file.

    Doesn't that solve the problem? It keeps you from opening the wrong file types.



  • @Dashrender said:

    Currently DNS requires a network share to host the user files so people can roam from machine to machine.

    I think you lost me on this one.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    @Dashrender said:

    Currently DNS requires a network share to host the user files so people can roam from machine to machine.

    I think you lost me on this one.

    Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS) requires an SMB share to store user settings files... it is kind of a pain.



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    @Dashrender said:

    Currently DNS requires a network share to host the user files so people can roam from machine to machine.

    I think you lost me on this one.

    I've updated my post to indicate that Dragon Naturally Speaking is the same as DNS in my post. Those that use Dragon often refer to it as DNS.





  • @scottalanmiller In this case, he's talking about Dragon Dictate's Naturally Speaking (Voice to text).



  • Where DNS != DNS

    That was CONFUSING



  • @scottalanmiller said:

    Where DNS != DNS

    That was CONFUSING

    I knew exactly what @scottalanmiller issue was when I read his post.. I updated my post for clarity.