Office 365 File Server Migration and Integration FAQs


Integrating your local file server with SharePoint Online could highly increase the benefit of any Office 365 subscription. Below typical questions are answered regarding such a hybrid environment.



Why providing local document access via the Office 365 cloud?
User can access their documents at any place, any time and with any device if appropriate access rights are given. Office 365 provides many additional features compared to a classic file server, like checkin / checkout (defined locking), versioning with history and rollback, change notifications, workflows, collaboration while editing documents, improved search, metadata navigation, offline usage and much more. No need to have Office installed locally, Office Online can be used to edit documents directly in the web browser.


Why keeping your local file server?
Office users can access documents with the highest performance and availability. The do not depend of bandwidth and Internet or provider availability. Some apps also require having files available locally, e.g. imaging processing. There could be also compliance reasons to generally own a current copy the files locally. Backups can be easily done, also restore if required.


Why hybrid environments could provide advantages of both sides, local on-premises IT and cloud?
Synchronizing your files could provide the best of both worlds, cloud and local IT.  Office users can continue to make use of the documents via file server while mobile users can profit from Office 365. You will need a proper sync tool to setup such an environment.


What are the steps to connect a file server with Office 365?
Make a plan: Think carefully which files or directories you will need in the cloud. Select a tool for migration, integration and backup. Execute the plan step-by-step. First time sync could take a while depending on data amount and bandwidth. Open cloud- access for selected early-bird user groups to make a first-time experience. Finalize the rollout if all issues are fixed.


Should I synchronize all local files with the Office 365 cloud?
In many cases it will not work to sync your existing file server structure completely into the Office 365 cloud, e.g. in one large library. There are a lot of limitations on the SharePoint side, e.g. regarding the number of files in a library or directory that are allowed to make use of all features (list view threshold). There are also limitations with specific sync clients from Microsoft or 3rd party vendors. It could make sense to integrate only pre-selected parts of the local file system with Office 365.


What are possible issues and workarounds of the Microsoft OneDrive for Business sync client?
The Microsoft client has many known issues and limitations discussed in the support forums. It needs a specific root directory for sync – you can’t keep your file system structure. The number of files is very limited depending on version and target system (SPO/OneDrive). There are also issues with file names and path length allowed. Some file types are not supported. You can’t set sync options very flexible, e.g. replication interval and replication conflict resolution options. The tool is “work in progress” – still unfinished.


Does it make sense to use another sync tool server side?
To keep your existing file server structure while synchronizing selected parts to specific Office 365 libraries you can make use of 3rd party tools like the Layer2 Cloud Connector. Such tools are running centrally managed in the local network as a Windows service with very flexible sync options. You can setup multiple connections (“sync jobs”) between specific source directories and target library folders. There are no limitations regarding the number of files. File names are automatically “translated”, forbidden file types are zipped. You have flexible sync options to setup appropriate sync intervals (e.g. 15 minutes ore once a day) and replication conflict solution strategies (e.g. keep both files with rename).


What’s the general client / server solution architecture?
3rd party tools can run centrally managed server-side as a Windows service to sync the required shares to the Office 365 cloud – and fix all the possible issues mentioned above during first sync. Office 365 users can make use of the free Microsoft OneDrive for Business than without any issues to sync some required parts of the cloud-based document libraries to their local devices.


How to evaluate a possible file synchronization solution?
Most tools on the market today are made for one-time file migration only, not a permanent sync. You should also select a tool without volume-related costs. One-time fee per installation is a great option. There should be no user-related costs, e.g. CALs. Some solutions are cloud-hosted. You should think carefully if you could trust the vendor. Best to avoid 3rd party access to your files, means the connection should go straight from your local file server to Office 365. There should be flexible sync options like one-way and two-way sync, sync on-demand and scheduled sync. You should be able to freely select the data source (any local directory) and the data destination (any document library folder). Using SQL-like queries or pre-defined SharePoint views / filters could help to just sync specific documents (e.g. by creation time, file type or size).  Views could also help with data aggregations (synchronizing multiple source folders to one destination folder). Flexible replication conflict solution strategies are helpful for daily usage without administrative overhead (e.g. one side wins or keep both sides and let the user decide). Using additional sync options like no-delete / no-insert / no-update could help to create specific solutions, e.g. for archiving. Column mapping could help to keep document metadata during sync or to assign specific SharePoint columns to specific metadata. Keep in mind that file synchronization is possibly not only about local to Office 365: There are other clouds as well that are possibly required to integrate: Azure, Google Drive, BOX.NET and others.


This sync approach is for Office 365 document libraries only – but what about lists?
Some sync tools like the Layer2 Cloud Connector can also work with SharePoint Online lists to sync list items with local sources, e.g. Excel/Access files, SQL databases or business systems like ERP/CRM. That’s a great value to integrate not only unstructured local documents, but also structured local data. It could be also used to enrich documents in Office 365 with metadata, e.g. from local databases. Finally lists can be used to just sync the document metadata from a file server – and not the files itself to link back for download, e.g. via WebDAV or HTTPS/FTP.


Which authentication types are supported by the sync client?
The Cloud Connector supports several common Office 365 authentication types like Windows Live or Active Directory Federated. It includes an Authentication Construction Kit to quickly adapt to new types auf authentications, e.g. federated with other systems.


What about my local file access rights via AD?
You can't map AD/NTF file access rights to SharePoint Online document access rights like library access, groups and others because of the very different structure. But you can give SPO access rights to certain libraries or folders to inherit by the files.


Which Microsoft offerings or plans can I use to provide my file system in the cloud?
The Cloud Connector works for any Office 365 plan, including OneDrive for Business. SharePOint Online gives the greatest flexibility for collaboration and sharing


Do I have all Office 365 features available for my synced files?
Yes, all features are available including Search, Workflows, Delve etc.


I have to providion many home drives or department shares. How to automate provisioning?
Yes you can automate provisioning using PowerShell scripts to provision users and create connection files for sync.


What about service or network interuptions? Does the connector reconnect?
Yes, the Cloud Connector automaticaly reconnects several times in case of interuption. It also tries again with the next sync interval.


Can I use the connector for Office 365 backup?
Yes, you can use it also one-way in both directions, means also for migration and backup.


Can I make use of the connector just on-damand (non-scheduled)?
Yes, you can start a sync on-demand using a batch command line option.


Can I use any specific sync order for certain directories, one after each other?
Yes, you can write a batch for this that includes syncs in a specific order.


Can connect a fax or scanner with the cloud using the connector?
Yes, simply scan or save the fax as file as usual and connect the directory with an Office 365 SharePoint library.


Can I connect a Google Drive, BOX.NET, DropBox or any other file sharing vendor with Office 365?
Yes, you can make use of the vendor specific software to sync to any local disk first and sync to Office 365 from there in a secound step.


Where can I find more information?
You can download and try a free Shareware Edition of the Layer2 Cloud Connector here.


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