SharePoint, File Explorer and the Great File Server debate.
When SharePoint became a huge product back in 2007 there was a wide variety of debates about moving file server content to SharePoint and the benefits this would bring. This is a topic which perhaps affects educational establishments more than any other. Do any other institutions undergo a 100% turnover in users over 5-7 years as schools and colleges do with students? In almost all schools these users will have access to their own personal ‘Home Drive’ and perhaps a number of file shares which contain resources shared by teachers. The question is when SharePoint comes along in a school should you get rid of Home Drives and file shares?
The argument for getting rid of file shares
File shares are typically areas where resources are either made available to a large number of users to consume or are full of documents which users collaborate on. In other words they are made for SharePoint! In an ideal world when rolling out a SharePoint deployment you will create a timeline to decommission file shares and replace them when SharePoint sites. File shares are often heavily cluttered and can be impossible to navigate. At Twynham when we rolled out SharePoint we made all our file shares ‘read-only’ for a year after before we switched them off. This was an important decision as it avoided the panic of users being under the threat of losing file shares and simply dumping the content (which in some cases is old, out of date and unused) into SharePoint without thought. When people have time to decommission parts of their file shares they can carefully look through and identify what they want to keep and resources which can be removed.
The argument for keeping Home Drives
If it makes sense to get rid of our file shares does it not also make sense to get rid of your Home Drives which are on a file server? At Twynham we considered decommissioning our file server with all the Home Drives on and putting the content on staff and student My Sites. Fortunately the technical guys in the team pointed out that this would be unwise. The amount of storage we were using in terms of a file server for Home Drives was 10TB. This storage was relatively cheap but moving it over to SharePoint would immediately put it on sql and have a considerable impact on performance. The main question is therefore why would you put your Home Drives on SharePoint? All of these resources are used by individuals and are not shared by other users. Given the relative costs of file servers compared to SAN storage it makes sense to leave Home Drives on the file server and save a lot of money on your deployment.
The challenge with keeping Home Drives
Having made the decision to move file shares over to SharePoint but keep Home Drives on a dedicated file server what problems were we still faced with? As schools adopt SharePoint users increasingly want access to resources anytime and anywhere. This can create a problem with Home Drives which are often not easily or conveniently exposed outside of schools so that users can access them from home. Even where schools make their Home Drives available the fact that they do not connect with SharePoint means that you lose that ‘one stop shop’ which is a big advantage of SharePoint. At Twynham we quickly realised that there would be an ideal scenario where file shares were decommissioned with resources moved to SharePoint and Home Drives would be maintained on a dedicated file server but we needed to make these available through SharePoint.
SharePoint File Explorer and Home Drives
SharePoint File Explorer was built with the challenges outlined above in mind. It is a web part which identifies the logged in user and surfaces their Home Drive so that they can add and remove resources and edit documents on the fly. The video below is a walk through which most effectively shows how File Explorer works.
If you would like to try a demo account for File Explorer yourself you can sign up at www.sharepointforschools.co.uk