A month ago, I took another job. One awesome benefit is that I get to build an environment without any pre-existing baggage. This has led to some unexpected solutions to problems we all have. For example, how to image a machine, how updates should apply, or how users should store documents. It is this last one that interests me most and the one I am hoping to get some feedback on.
What Makes for Good Document Access
First, I want to avoid drive mappings. Personally, I am prefer links for UNC access. Even though GPP Drive Mappings has been improved in Windows 8.1, I use this distribution method for links. In terms of general storage, I am wanting a technology that allows the following:
- Not dependent on a single server
- Fluid use for Windows Users – no unnecessary setup or odd storage procedures
- Native to a Windows environment and free/cheap
- Does not negatively affect user logons to a noticeable perception
- Easily accessible externally and accessible across device types
In the past, I would have immediately turned to Folder Redirection and pointed my users to a DFS share. This would have satisfied points 1 and 2. Folder Redirection can significantly impact user logons, especially on a user’s initial logon. This performance hit can be greatly reduced by pairing Folder Redirection with Offline Files (Windows 7+). When Offline Files are enabled, local documents do not need to be copied up before a user is logged in. Folder Redirection is built-in to XP+ machines. With Windows 7+ machines, you can redirect every important local profile folder.
Remote document access with folder redirection can be a bit trickier. I’ve seen two common methods used:
- Direct File Access through OWA 2007/2010
- Use of the msIIS-FTP Active Directory attributes.
The first method no longer works on Exchange 2013+. The second method works but can be a bit cumbersome to setup (and doesn’t allow access outside of the home directory). If anyone has another remote access method for redirected folder, I would be very interesting in knowing about it.
Using OneDrive for Business for File Storage
The limitations above has led me to another potential solution. Because I work in education and have free access to Office 365, my users can use OneDrive for Business for document storage (currently 1TB per user). For education, this service meets all of the requirements above. When paired with ADFS, users are even automatically signed into their Office365 account. The downside to this setup is the complexity, user adoption, and potential syncing issues.
Over the next few months, I will be posting a walkthrough or two on migrating to OneDrive for Business, how to avoid common problems, and some ways to make the move easier on your users. If you have already made the move, get in touch with me by leaving a comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts on the service.